Don’t use Paid Memberships Pro on the WordPress.com Business Plan

In mid-2017, WordPress.com began to offer a Business Plan. Sites on this plan pay an annual fee to unlock various features, specifically the ability to install any theme or plugin from the WordPress.org repository (prior to this, sites could only activate a specific set of plugins). This means that WordPress.com sites could finally run Paid Memberships Pro. Pretty neat. Or not.


While it is possible to activate the Paid Memberships Pro plugin on a Business Plan, we do not recommend running PMPro or any of our Add Ons on a WordPress.com account. The main issue is that even business plans cannot SFTP into their sites or edit the plugin files in any way. This is a problem for 2 reasons.

  1. PMPro is a complicated plugin with unpredictable dependencies on other plugins and themes. If PMPro is not playing nice with another plugin or theme on your WordPress.com setup, maybe even causing a fatal error that crashes your site, you will not be able to edit your site files to debug the issue.
  2. We expect most membership sites to require custom code to function properly. While we aim to make our Add Ons as user friendly as possible and improve them all as time goes on, more than most other plugins we encourage our users to hire developers to tweak their membership sites using custom code. This isn’t possible on WordPress.com.

Again, it is possible to activate Paid Memberships Pro, and there are likely many users successfully running it on the WordPress.com Business Plan. I just want to make it clear that until WordPress.com offers SFTP or a viable alternative, I’d rather not have people get setup on PMPro only to run into a need or support issue that would require customization or debugging.


So where should I host?

It’s been a long standing question which hosting companies we recommend for your Membership site. This guide outlines some general hosting requirements you can review to make sure your selected host will work with Paid Memberships Pro.

If your site is currently hosted on WordPress.com and you’d like to move to self-hosted WordPress, check out this guide on the necessary steps for migrating your website. You can perform the migration yourself, work with your new hosting company to complete the move, or even hire a WordPress Happiness Engineer to perform a guided transfer.

Getting Ready for GDPR

WordPress has released its latest version, 4.9.6, which includes privacy-related updates intended to help your site comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Continue reading for background information on these updates and to explore the three new GDPR-related tools in WordPress 4.9.6 and Paid Memberships Pro 1.9.5, including:

  1. Suggested Privacy Policy page language related to PMPro-captured data,
  2. Included membership information in the personal data export, and
  3. The membership data that will be erased or anonymized as part of the user’s right to delete their personal information.


Background Information

On May 25th, 2018 the grace period for the European Union’s resolution instituting better privacy standards will end. The GDPR demands that site administrators, as well as all parties involved in the production of a site, pay careful attention when handling user data, as well as make accommodation for a user’s data to be exported or erased upon request.

Whether or how this regulation applies to websites outside of the EU is a legal question being discussed vigorously right now, but my general understanding is that these regulations would apply to any site worldwide with EU visitors. And so unless you specifically target a certain geography or exclude EU users, this would mean the GDPR applies to your site. Even if you aren’t concerned with the legal implications, many of the GDPR-related suggestions offer a good way to be more transparent with your users regarding their data privacy.

Back in April, we published a blog post outlining the GDPR requirements from a high level. In this post we will review the recent changes in WordPress core to assist you with attaining compliance, how Paid Memberships Pro will integrate with those core processes, and discuss the implications of the new regulations for site owners, administrators, designers, and developers.

There are 3 new tools in WordPress 4.9.6 that PMPro is now integrating with to help you to update your privacy policies and attain GDPR compliance.


Privacy Policy Page

WordPress 4.9.6 introduces a setting to designate a specific “Privacy Policy” page. To set an existing page as the Privacy Policy page or create a new Privacy Policy page, go to Settings -> Privacy. When editing the designated Privacy Policy page, a link is shown at the top of the editor to a guide “for recommendations on what content to include, along with policies suggested by your plugins and theme”.

We have added a section to the guide with suggested language to include in your Privacy Policy. At this time, the default text includes the following:

Data Collected to Manage Your Membership

At checkout, we will collect your name, email address, username, and password. This information is used to setup your account for our site. If you are redirected to an offsite payment gateway to complete your payment, we may store this information in a temporary session variable to setup your account when you return to our site.

At checkout, we may also collect your billing address and phone number. This information is used to confirm your credit card. The billing address and phone number are saved by our site to prepopulate the checkout form for future purchases and so we can get in touch with you if needed to discuss your order.

At checkout, we may also collect your credit card number, expiration date, and security code. This information is passed to our payment gateway to process your purchase. The last 4 digits of your credit card number and the expiration date are saved by our site to use for reference and to send you an email if your credit card will expire before the next recurring payment.

When logged in, we use cookies to track some of your activity on our site including logins, visits, and page views.

You should make sure to update this default text based on how you’ve specifically implemented PMPro on your site, what your payment gateway options are, and which PMPro Add Ons your are using. If you are using Add Ons that integrate with third parties (e.g. email marketing services), be sure to mention what information is shared and how. If you are using Add Ons that collect additional information at checkout, be sure to mention what that information is and how it’s used.

The new regulations state that policies should be clear and easy to understand. Avoid using any unnecessary legal jargon. Your Privacy Policy should be easy to find on your site. Place a link to your Privacy Policy in your main navigation and/or footer area.


Terms of Service

In order to require members accept the Privacy Policy when checking out through PMPro, you must set a “Terms of Service” page on the advanced settings tab of the PMPro settings. This will add a section to the checkout page above the submit button that shows the full text of your Privacy Policy along with a checkbox that is required to complete checkout.

While we use the term “Terms of Service” or “TOS” in our settings, your page can be named “Privacy Policy” or anything else. On some sites the Privacy Policy and Terms of Service (or Terms of Use) are separate documents. We recommend combining them into one document or linking each document to each other.

Prior to PMPro version 1.9.5, the TOS checkbox was required but did not store any data to track that agreement. So if you added the TOS sometime after launch, there was no way to tell which of your users actually agreed to the TOS besides checking the date they signed up vs when you published your TOS.

As of PMPro version 1.9.5, we now store a “consent log” for each user marking the post ID and date modified of the TOS page at the time of checkout. This information is linked to and shown on the order in the WP dashboard and on the edit user profile page in the dashboard.

A way to require existing (pre-version 1.9.5 users) to agree to the TOS or require users agree to the TOS again after it has been updated would be a useful feature. We are working on a way to do this with PMPro, and will include it in a future release.


Export Personal Data

The GDPR includes regulations related to the “Right to Access”, which basically is the right for users to request a copy of all personal data a website tracks for them. In WordPress core, this has been implemented as a tool to “Export Personal Data” for any email/user on your site (with most WP setups, it’s possible to comment on a blog post without being a user).

By default, exporting a user’s personal data is a manual process kicked off by a WP admin. You enter an email address into the form to send a request. The user then needs to click a link in that request email to approve the export. Once the link is validated, the admin will have a button to click to send the user their data as a zip file in email, as well as a link to download the zip file directly.

There are some plugins coming out that try to make this process easier, so users can make the request from the frontend of your website without the admin needing to get involved. I believe that there should always be a manual admin step to export the data to enable you to confirm that the request is legitimate. One thing you can do is update your contact form/page to include a subject line suggestion for “Request an Export of Personal Data”, and then manage the rest of the process manually from the Tools -> Export Personal Data page in the dashboard.

Version 1.9.5 of PMPro adds all PMPro-related data into the export. This includes the user’s business address, the expiration date and last 4 digits of their credit card if one was used, their membership history, their order history, and the log of logins/visits/views that PMPro tracks.

Some information is notably excluded from this export. If you use Stripe or Braintree as your payment gateway, we do not share the user’s “customer ID”. In our opinion, this information was generated by your site for your site use and does not constitute “personal data”. We also do not include the “Notes” section of the orders exported. Traditionally the notes section is used by Add Ons for various tracking purposes (e.g. to note an affiliate code used) and may contain sensitive information written by the site owner not intended to be viewed by the customer.

Soon our Add Ons, including Register Helper, will also include their data in these exports.


Erase Personal Data

The GDPR includes regulations related to “Right to be Forgotten”, which basically is the right for users to request that their personal data be deleted from a website. In WordPress core, this has been implemented as a tool to “Erase Personal Data” for any email/user on your site.

Similar to the Export Personal Data tool, by default a WordPress admin must manually start the process to erase a user’s personal data. Again, we suggest adding a subject line suggestion to your contact form for “Request Erasure of Personal Data”, and then handling the rest of the process manually from the Tools -> Erase Personal Data page in the dashboard.

Version 1.9.5 of PMPro adds an “eraser” script. The script deletes some data stored in “user meta”, including the user’s billing address, the expiration date of their credit card, the last 4 digits of their credit card, and the login/visit/view tracking data.

The script does not delete the member history or any orders associated with the user. In our opinions, this information usually needs to be retained for business records. The GDPR does allow for information to be retained at the site owners discretion.

The script also does not cancel any memberships or subscriptions at the gateway. In most situations, you will probably want to do this as well for your members by canceling their membership manually from the edit user page or by deleting the user.

Note that “erasing” a user is not the same as deleting them. Erasing will delete or anonymize certain data about a user based on rules implemented by WP and the plugins you are using. Deleting a user will be a harsher action that will delete all information stored about the user. When a user is deleted (vs erased), PMPro will delete the user’s membership history and will cancel their membership and any subscriptions stored at the payment gateway. Any orders associated with the user will be retained, but unlinked from that user.


In Summary

Update to WordPress 4.9.6. Update to PMPro 1.9.5. Take this time to create or update your privacy policy and designate that page as the Privacy Policy to WP and PMPro by going to Settings -> Privacy and Memberships -> Advanced Settings respectively. Update your contact form to mention it’s possible to request a data export or for personal data to be erased.

Let us know if you have any questions about these new privacy features, the GDPR in general, or other issues we didn’t address in this post. We will provide updates to our blog here as we update our core plugin and add ons as new features become available.

10 Popular Pricing Models for Membership Sites

As you begin to build a membership or subscription business online, one of the first decisions you need to consider is pricing. More specifically, what type of pricing model do you want to use for your business?

This post aims to cover the most popular pricing models for membership-type businesses.

  1. Fixed Term Membership
  2. Recurring Subscriptions with Fixed Price per Period
  3. Front-loaded Membership Pricing
  4. Installment Plans
  5. Free or Reduced-rate Trial Periods
  6. Lifetime Membership
  7. Group Pricing / Sponsored Membership / Umbrella Plans
  8. Addon Pricing Models
  9. Utility Pricing
  10. Donations or “Pay What You Want” Membership


Remember: Price should always match the value.

Before you even begin to drool over the idea of hordes of members paying you a recurring fee each week or month, ask yourself how your membership business delivers value to its members. Is value delivered evenly over the lifetime of membership? Is the majority of value delivered in the first months of membership?

The answer to this basic question is what determines how you price your membership options. Pricing your membership or subscription options in a way that is contrary to the value delivered is a set up for failure—you do not want members to stop and ask themselves, “Hey, why am I still paying for this?” That’s a sure way to create a bad feeling and lose members.

If you’d like to read more about this topic, Jason wrote a post earlier all about this that included some case studies.

Here’s another way to think about value pricing: how much do you want to make?

Now this may seem like a silly question, the answer to which is “As much as I can possibly make!” But if you are truly honest with yourself, you should be able to set a realistic revenue target or goal. Using this revenue target, you can back into membership pricing (and possibly even refine your business model).

For example, let’s say you set a revenue target at $30,000 per month. This could be achieved via several pricing models:

  • 750 members paying you $10/week.
  • 1,000 members paying you $30/month.
  • 835 or so new members per month committed to paying you $36/year.

Which of these is most achievable given the premise of your membership site? How can you deliver value along the timeline of your membership to retain these members? Is it possible for you to grow to a member base of this size?

If you’re still thinking about pricing from this high level, you might want to read Jason’s series on pricing that starts here before diving into the details below.

If you have an idea of the type of pricing you want or otherwise just want to browse through the options below, continue reading. Here are some common pricing models we have seen used for member-based businesses.


Fixed Term Membership

In this pricing model, the membership level has a set term with expiration. Members must renew to maintain membership. We often see this pricing model used for set term of the calendar year (January 1 to December 31). This is a comment pricing model for traditional Associations and Organizations as well as benefactor groups that report membership on an annual basis and require people to “renew” that term each year.

You can do some creative things with this pricing model, such as offer a discount for early renewal, a discount for purchase a multi-year membership in advance, or even prorate membership for people who sign up mid-term.

For more reading on this model, see:


Recurring Subscriptions with Fixed Price per Period

This is a very popular model of membership pricing, where a specific price is charged “per month” or “per year” for the life of membership. Most payment gateways also allow pricing per week or custom periods like every 3 months, every 60 days, etc.

Recurring subscriptions work well for newsletter-based businesses, sites with content written by “experts” or coaches, as well as online social communities and listings sites.

The important caveat to this type of membership pricing is that you continue to deliver value each term. If your members are paying you monthly, you better be certain that there is “new stuff” (good new stuff) delivered to the member each month.

This model is very easy to set up with the base Paid Memberships Pro plugin. You would achieve this by setting an initial payment and recurring subscription of the term of your membership.


Front-loaded Membership Pricing

Jason is a fan of front-loaded pricing models—where a higher amount is charged at signup, then a lower rate is charged each term. This can be a single up front higher cost, or an installment (i.e. $100 per month for the first 3 months then $15 per month).

This is a key model to consider if your answer to when value is delivered is “mostly in the first few months” (or weeks). I see this pricing model for health and fitness sites aimed at weight loss or a software businesses with a “get started” rate then maintenance rate.

For more reading on this model, see:


Installment Plans

Installment plans are a bit like the front-loaded membership, but they do not have the ongoing recurring payment. This model is useful if you need to charge a high price but know that your customers cannot afford that large expense in one payment. I have seen this model used for executive coaching, training programs, and the sale of physical goods.

This model is very easy to set up with the base Paid Memberships Pro plugin. You would achieve this by setting an initial payment and recurring payment of the term of your membership, with a “payment limit”. You can optionally set an expiration date on membership as well. Let me break this down for a membership level that you want to charge $400 for over the course of 4 months and maintain the user’s membership for 1 total year.

  • Initial Payment: $100
  • Recurring Subscription: $100 per 1 month
  • Billing Cycle Limit: 3
  • Expires in: 1 Year

One caveat of an installment plan is that you want to lock a member in to paying for the full installment. If you’ve giving a customer a $400 physical product, and they cancel membership in the second month, you’re out a big chunk of money. See this guide for help on locking a user from changing their level during the installment period: Methods to Block Users from Logging In, Selecting or Changing Membership


Free or Reduced-rate Trial Periods

We aren’t a big fan of this pricing model, but it is one you see a lot in the wild. [Jason: I’m a fan of free trials if your goal is to get more people using your service or product. When you’re actually ready to make a profit, switching to a model that charges based on true value of your product up front is best in my opinion.]

In general, the free trial model charges a lower rate for the first few terms of membership, hoping to hook the customer into maintaining their membership after the trial ends. I have see this model used in a lot of online software and tools, but also for “subscription boxes” (get your first box – just pay shipping!), and other digital communication or financial tools.

In all of these cases, its important to remember that you must prove the worth of your full price membership during the trial period. You don’t want to price yourself so high that people aren’t able to maintain membership at the full rate, and you don’t want to deliver all the value of membership during the trial so there’s no reason for them to stay on.

If you’re a fan of the membership trial model, we strongly suggest offering a reduced rate trial instead of a completely free trial. This forces your members to be a bit committed to your product and can help insulate you from the workload created by loads of free trial members that never really intended to stick around.

For more reading on this model, see:


Lifetime Membership

You can add a “lifetime” option to almost any pricing model you select. Sometimes a reduced-price lifetime plan is offered for a limited time as an incentive for early adopters. Sometimes the lifetime plan is always available for customers who just want to pay once without worrying about recurring subscriptions.

To figure out what to charge for your lifetime plan, you would take some multiple of your monthly membership, perhaps 30x a monthly membership or 2.5x an annual membership rate. Ideally, your lifetime plans should result in the same “customer lifetime value” as someone paying per period. So having a good estimate of your renewal rates and customer lifetime value will help you to find the sweet spot.

Sometimes a higher-priced lifetime plan can be used as a decoy and will not be selected by a significant number of people, but will make your regular price look like a better deal. We’ve heard from some sites with lower-volume, higher-priced lifetime plans report that “every once in a while you get a little bonus when someone chooses the lifetime option”.

This model is very easy to set up with the base Paid Memberships Pro plugin. You would achieve this by simply setting an one-time initial payment on the membership level with no recurring subscription or expiration.


Group Pricing / Sponsored Membership / Umbrella Plans

This model is useful when you have a breakdown of individual members as well as corporate or company-type members. For this model, you would take your individual member pricing and offer a value to the parent account that is purchasing more than one membership at a time for a team of people. For example, you could offer a single membership for $125 per month and then a group license of $500 for a 5-member organization.

For more reading on this model, see:


Addon Pricing Models

In this “build your own” membership model, users may be charged a base price, then have the option to select additional membership features. These features may be added interest groups for a newsletter or blog category subscription, or a la carte features of membership, such as an annual resume review service, a consultation phone call or other “one-off” products. We have seen this model used for traditional newspapers that offer an online and optional physical printed edition.

For more reading on this model, see:


Utility Pricing

In this pricing model, users are charged based on some kind of consumption metric. You may recognize this model as used by most email marketing services that charge based on number of members in your list. Cloud hosting companies might charge based on the disk space and/or bandwidth used.

We wanted to include this pricing model even though Paid Memberships Pro doesn’t offer utility pricing in the core plugin or any of our add ons. It can be a smart model if the cost to you as a business is truly based on a member’s usage. Some gateways like Stripe and Braintree allow you to adjust a user’s subscription amount whenever you like. Others like PayPal offer changes within a certain range. With some custom coding, you could track the metric you need to calculate the monthly/annual total, generate an order for that, and then attempt to resolve that order against the customers credit card stored at the gateway.


Donations or “Pay What You Want” Membership

If you go the route of a donation-based membership, its best to enter into things with low expectations. These types of membership sites are often run by producers who would be doing their thing regardless of payment. If you’re a passionate product reviewer or write your own digital music and just want to get your stuff out there, then asking for optional donations can be a positive way to make a modest income without the pressure of a traditional membership model.

We like the “Pay What You Want” model, especially if you put some social pressure on your potential members: “Most people pay $5 per month.” Another option is to include bonuses above a certain amount to encourage higher revenue per sale.

For more reading on this model, see:


Now put on your thinking cap.

I hope this post has exposed some of the traditional and not-so-traditioanl ways you can price your new membership or subscription-based business. And don’t feel shy about changing a pricing model for an existing business—we did that here at Paid Memberships Pro when we really did some thinking about value pricing. The majority of our value is delivered in the first few months of membership, when the support customer is just getting their membership business off the ground. We offer a discounted annual renewal rate because there is ongoing value delivered via our blog posts, code recipes, and continued development to the Plus Add Ons.

Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments below.


Other Posts on Pricing

Thinking of starting or growing a WordPress-based Business in 2018?

My experience in the WordPress products world has taught me a thing of two about the full stack of issues facing an entrepreneur. This post aims to share my thoughts on starting up in the WordPress economy as well as experience-based actions you can take to improve your chances of success.


Is there space for my next big idea?

As a serial entrepreneur, I can’t stop myself from considering every hobby from a business standpoint. It’s something I may need therapy for, but has done me a great service throughout my life. I see this same energy in our plugin users—largely new businesses entering the online marketplace to get paid for a broad range use cases, from premium content to communities, premium services and many verticals in between.

Today, our support customers lean toward the non-developer, roughly a 60/40 split. I understand that these are just the plugin users we interact with, certainly not the full 60k active sites using our plugin. This trend leads me to believe that there are more DIYers going it alone to create their online membership or subscription site presence. We strive to build a core plugin that can be configured without developer support because I believe:

  1. Projects don’t have a “one size fits all” budget.
  2. Developers of all levels should be able to charge a fair price for their services.
  3. An open web means that site owners should have access to the key tools they need at a price that’s comfortable.

Where my entrepreneurs at?

As it relates to the solopreneur or DIYer, there are some notable shifts to be aware of in today’s changing WordPress economy:

  1. There’s been an increase in managed web hosting, specifically services to monitor your site, perform updates and provide security.
  2. Page builders and the new Gutenberg Editor (which will be soon be part of core) are available to help you improve content layout and design.
  3. Coming changes to WordPress.com’s hosted platform now allow users to pay for premium services and unlock added features.
  4. A rise in retainer-like WordPress management services allow businesses with smaller budgets to leverage skilled developer support at scale.
  5. Let’s not forget changes outside the WordPress bubble, specifically the rising popularity of all-in-one website tools such as Squarespace and Wix.

Take a moment to reflect on how these factors will affect you. How will they impact the competitive landscape of the market you are hoping to enter? How will these shifts affect the ease at which you can launch and grow?


Let’s not forget the developers!

As it relates to a developer, you may be facing some interesting choices for how to stay competitive and profitable in today’s WordPress economy. Just like most businesses, be it a plugin product like Paid Memberships Pro or yourself as a freelancer, there are only four ways to get paid more:

  1. Work more.
  2. Raise prices.
  3. Acquire market share from your competitors.
  4. Grow the market by obtaining new entrants.

Each factor above has an appropriate time and place. At Paid Memberships Pro, we leverage all of these methods to grow. But, the most interesting piece I want to touch on relates to item 4: growing your market by obtaining new entrants.

I believe that leveraging new trends and technologies are the secret to helping you grow your market and obtain new entrants. In fact, this approach is how Paid Memberships Pro has grown into the solution it is today. When we started out, our plugin didn’t offer every payment gateway, email marketing integration, or a majority of the other third-party integrations now available to our users. By keeping an eye on new plugins and services that are growing in popularity, we are able to extend Paid Memberships Pro the right way: the way that the market is already responding to.

This same type of thinking applies to many other aspects of the WordPress economy, such as social marketing, SEO, security, e-learning and more. What are the trends in these markets and how can you become a go-to resource on these new technologies?


Is it too late to enter the WordPress economy?

Let’s go back in time and talk plugin products.

Circa 2008 the plugins repository was far less dense. Innovative plugins as well as “me too” plugins with stiff competition in the closed source market could launch as open source projects in the WordPress plugin repository and steadily grow their user base. Paid Memberships Pro launched around this time, and we chose to put our full plugin in the repository because we (1) believe in open source software and (2) saw it as an excellent path to create and grow our user base. We were the only membership plugin that included the Stripe and Authorize.net gateways for free, right out of the box, and available in the repository.

So today, just like in years past, there are many ways to attract and grow your user base, deal with competition, and have an advantage. And, if you’re entering an existing market, you must consider established competitors and develop a marketing/product development/pricing strategy that wins. So what are some techniques you can employ to get paid?

  1. Be the ONLY product that does something
    Great – you’re innovative. But ask yourself, “Do I do something that people even want?” Usually you don’t want to enter a market with NO competitors. While it can mean you are truly new, it could also mean there is no demand for what you’re building.
  2. Be the CHEAPEST product among your competition
    Great – you’re a discount. But is that your true value? Using price as a differentiator can be a component of a launch strategy, but I don’t recommend competing solely on price. Just take this as a warning that competing on price and price alone makes it difficult to raise prices down the road. But if you must, it’s best to qualify a lower price as a “launch discount” or sale, not the implied value of what you’re offering.
  3. Do the same things as your competition BETTER
    Now we’re talking! It is perfectly acceptable to launch a product in a (somewhat) crowded marketplace if you are doing things “better”. Maybe your code leverages newer technologies and trends in development. Maybe your user interface is more intuitive and friendly for non-techies. Maybe you’re just friendly, nicer, and people like you. Maybe you offer more friendly integrations via third-party tools and open APIs. These are all differentiators that would allow a not-so-innovative idea to gain traction.
  4. Position yourself for ACQUISITION
    While this is generally a long road, products (and maybe more specifically the teams that develop them) are actively being bought up by larger players. If this is a path you’d consider, it may be useful to think about as a “back of mind” motivator.
  5. Slow and steady can WIN the race
    Scott Bollinger recently wrote about the differences in today’s WordPress products market. In his post, he writes about bringing products to market, stating, “It’s going to be a lot harder than it used to be, and it’s going to take longer.” I believe this was always the case to some degree — unless you laid a golden egg: being the ONLY product doing something with the funding to push hard and fast in terms of marketing and dev.

    Paid Memberships Pro was built over many, many years of client services work. We sold just $2,300 worth of support memberships our first year. Now we sell that much every day. We transitioned from general WordPress site development, to WordPress Membership site development, to a WordPress Memberships Product company over the span of 8 years. Not a quick-win or “golden egg” by any stretch of the imagination.

In short: building a [website, product business, client-services team] may not be as easy as it once was. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying.


What broader or alternate economies must your consider?

A conversation about launching new businesses in the WordPress economy would be incomplete without noting that your [website, product business, client-services team] is part of many additional economies.

For example, we consider a few distinct markets as our own. We compete not only with other OSS membership plugins, but also with closed source and hosted membership SaaS companies. Separate from the membership software market, we also consider the market of our customers (membership-based websites), asking:

  • What kinds of membership businesses are people launching online?
  • What new or existing tools do membership site owners want to integrate with?
  • How much of the “problem” should our plugin solve – just be a tool or offer a complete platform?
  • What is the skill-level of most people starting up a business with Paid Memberships Pro?
  • What services other than technology do these new membership-based businesses need support for? Who can provide that support?

Try to create a similar list of “questions” for your business. What broader economies are you part of? What changes are happening in your target customer’s economies? These questions are great talking points to launch a conversation on the bigger picture of your business’ market.


So should we all just quit now?

Depending on how your business does WordPress, you may be feeling more or less pain in this changing WordPress economy. There is more competition within every channel—be it more developers ready to discount their work or your former clients bringing web development in-house.

Then consider the WordPress plugins market: so saturated with offerings and increased difficulty getting noticed without a big name attached to your product.

And, while I can’t cover every flavor of web presence, I doubt the solopreneurs / DIY site owners reading this will have difficulty identifying some basic factors facing your unique web-based market.

In summary, I think the most important takeaways from this rambling post are:

  • Stay on top of trends and leverage them as a differentiator
  • Position yourself/your business as a specialist rather than a jack of all trades
  • Launch your minimum viable product, then grow with control
  • Cash out along the life of your business

Even in a competitive market, there’s a place for your business. Discard the nostalgia of how it once was and embrace the new landscape before you.

Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments below.

Why choose a paid membership model for your business.

Running a successful membership website can be tough. There are many aspects to consider before you even choose the right plugin or platform and acquire your first paying members. Hopefully, this post helps you take a step back and consider some of the “big picture” topics surrounding a membership-based business.


This post was inspired by Iwan Pieterse, a PMPro Plus member who built his business using Paid Memberships Pro. Iwan is the founder of We Manage Your Site, a subscription-based website maintenance, and development service business.

Iwan hosted a talk titled “How to Set Up and Grow a Paid Memberships Site” at WordCamp Johannesburg 2017. The thoughts below recap some of my key takeaways from his session. You can view and download the full presentation here.


The online recurring income business model.

If you have a product, service or information that adds value to the lives of people, you may have a lucrative business on your hands. By packaging your services or offering around a recurring income business model, you can set yourself up with a constant stream of income all year round. Who wouldn’t want that?

Some benefits of running an online membership site:

  1. Predictable income.
  2. A relatively low barrier to entry.
  3. The chance to build a community around your business, corporation or yourself.
  4. Relatively “easy to scale” business model.
  5. The potential to become financially free (the golden ticket).
  6. Work from anywhere in the World!
  7. Do what you love.
  8. Adding value to your members’ lives. (let’s talk more about this one)

Adding value to your Members lives.

Before getting your hands dirty with the technical side of how to build a membership site, it is important to stop and think a little about why you are building a membership site. Think about your business and the people who are going to sign up for what you have to offer. Too often, users are viewed as “figures in a spreadsheet.” Instead, try to remember that your members are people. These people have taken time to research your offering, considered alternatives, and finally made the leap to spend some of their hard earned cash on your business.

  • By thinking “people-first”, you will not only have happier members, you may have identified a competitive advantage that supports your business’ growth.
  • Build relationships with your users by focusing on adding value to their lives: this will help ensure you get as many returning customers as possible. Depending on your business model, return customers can really help build the bridge to your financial freedom.
  • Do what you love and use the opportunity to craft your content around your members.
  • Put yourself in your members’ shoes. Ask yourself what kind of content, or value are you looking for that keeps you subscribing to your favorite blog, newspaper or online service.

What exactly is a “Paid Membership Site”?

Simply put, a website through which you deliver your content, service or product(s) and where customers or members are billed, usually online, for an agreed upon period and frequency.

We see a very wide range of sites built on Paid Memberships Pro, but most paid membership sites fit into one of the categories below.

Content Creation Examples

  1. Educational – Video courses, E-books, live tutoring lessons and online classroom session.
  2. Fitness – Training programs, eating plans,  instructional videos and informative blog posts.
  3. Musical – Video music lessons, online course and one on one music lessons.

Membership Products Examples

  1. Entertainment – Pop Culture memorbilia, & Video Games.
  2. Grooming – Beard Products,  Beauty Products & Men’s shavers.
  3. Food – Beer, Coffee & chocolate.

Member Services Examples

  1. Consultations – Finance, Business, Health.
  2. Digital Service – Website maintenance, support, Graphic Design.
  3. Organization – Non-Profit, Networking, Sports Club.

Pricing Models for Paid Membership Sites

Choosing an appropriate pricing model is one topic we’ve posted a lot about here at Paid Memberships Pro. Quite plainly, you will need to decide if membership is charged as a once-off payment or recurring.

Check out these previous posts on pricing to explore the topic further.

Iwan’s Top Tips and WordCamp Johannesburg Takeaways.

I managed to ask Iwan a question in the Q&A session of his talk. “Can you give us some advice on how to get new members to sign up for a membership level?” This is what he had to say:

  1. Target the lowest hanging fruit.
    The current communities, clients, business associates, and other social circles you are already in are a best first place to look to when trying to acquire new members. Utilize these social circles first to get a foundation of inaugural members. Bonus: these communities can also help shape what type of membership business to start. Look at the communities you are already involved in and build around an existing need that serves the community.
  2. Social Media Marketing
    Social media is a great platform to communicate to your members but you can also market your business to other potential members. Plan your marketing strategy and schedule your social media posts using something like Buffer. Take your time and craft your posts, remember, quality over quantity.
  3. Content, content, content.
    Blogging is a powerful tool that not only adds value to your members’ lives (people-first thinking), but also drives traffic to your site. Write 2 blog posts per week that are around 1500 words, have concise useful information and adopt the “quality over quantity” approach.

Using Paid Memberships Pro to set up your Membership Site

Paid Memberships Pro is a WordPress Membership Plugin, Member Management, and Subscriptions Solution. Our plugin is designed for premium content sites, clubs/associations, subscription products, newsletters and more! The plugin adds a new revenue source to your site and is flexible enough to fit the needs of almost all online and offline businesses.

The core Paid Memberships Pro is free to use but if you find you need to further expand your membership business a little more, chances are one of our 60+ Plus Add-Ons will help you with this. As a Plus Member, you will also be granted access to our Members Support Forum. Want to get started? Watch out Initial Setup video here.

Download Paid Memberships Pro
This entry was posted by Travis Lima in Business, Newsletter and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Last updated: . Titled Why choose a paid membership model for your business.

How to Run a Black Friday or Cyber Monday Promotion

Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) are coming this weekend. This post summarizes some of my thoughts on massive sales, as well as a few tips for running a successful BFCM campaign.


Don’t run too many sales.

In the past, I’ve been pretty negative about running sales. I agree with Chris Lema that you risk training your customers to wait for a sale before buying. Worst of all, you confuse your customers by implying that your product is worth less than your list price. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the price of our service and defend our current price daily as the correct price for our customers and our business. Running a sale contradicts the reality that our price is correct.

On top of the psychological impact, managing a different discount every month can be difficult, time-consuming, and confusing.

Discounts require promo images, sales copy, emails, social media, and sometimes paid promotion. Each new price adds an additional factor to any custom logic you might have around renewals, upgrades, or cross promotions. Your support channels will be stressed with customers asking for last week’s sale price, or next week’s sale price, or a deal they found in an old email. How can you tell them a certain price was only available for a limited time when you’re going to be running a similar deal in a month or two?


Is Black Friday/Cyber Monday an exception?

Despite the above concerns, the occasional sale can be very lucrative.

Running a sale once or twice a year offers a means to include potential customers you’ve ‘priced out’ or who might have been on the fence to give your paid products a try. Scott Bolinger offers an analysis of this in his post: Lessons Learned From 3 Years of Black Friday / Cyber Monday Sales. He says his BFCM sales nearly double his revenue in November. I’ve heard similar things from others… that a well done BFCM sale is like an extra month of revenue.

Who doesn’t want to cheat physics and get an extra month of revenue out of their business?

The BFCM weekend offers a unique opportunity if you’re going to run just one or two sales a year.

  • Since sales are expected during this time, the pricing/branding impact is minimized.
  • Depending on your industry, sales are either weak or strong during the holidays. If sales are weak, a BFCM discount can offset this weakness. If sales are strong, a BFCM discount can make the most of the increased traffic during a competitive time.
  • Blogs and other marketing sites are going to be aggregating BFCM sales and sharing them with their readers, creating organic SEO opportunities and increasing traffic.

The downsides are minimized and the upsides are maximized. So, let’s do this!


What to offer

The easiest promotion you can run is a blanket percentage discount across all of your products. Anecdotally, 10% off feels lackluster, 25% off feels adequate, 50% off feels good, and anything more than that seems a little crazy but might be appropriate for products with low overhead.

Alternatively, you could bundle products together at a lower overall price. You could offer extra features, licenses, or an unlimited quantity of some part of your product that is usually limited. If you can’t or don’t want to lower the price on your product, you can still get creative to find ways to participate in BFCM.

No matter your offer, your BFCM sale should offer the best discount you give all year. It should be better than any ongoing affiliate deal or discount you offer through partners.


Other Pricing Considerations

Make sure you can afford the sale.

If it costs you $100 to deliver to each customer and support them, don’t run your sale below $100. You might be tempted to price things lower just to get the inflow of customers, but unless you have a direct reason to believe that each new customer is going to lead to further sales or upsells, be careful.

If you don’t know how much it costs to fulfill a customer order and support it, then you need to back up and figure that out. It’s possible your list price needs to be adjusted to account for your true cost of doing business. Start here.

Consider the cost of running the sale.

Besides any time and money you spend promoting your sale you’re also going to have a certain number of customers who would have paid full price for your product but ended up buying at the sale price. Requiring a discount code or a special URL will mitigate this a bit, but even so some number of customers will pay less than they would have. If you expect to average about 5 sales per day at $300 and you’re going to be offering a 50% discount for 4 days, there is about (4x5x150) $3000 you’re potentially leaving on the table. Your sale needs to make up for that. A good sale can make 1 month’s revenue ($45k in our example), so it would still be worth it… just make sure you run a good sale.

Remember, you’ll probably upset some current customers.

Some number of customers before and after the sale are also going to reach out to you asking to get the sale price. You can be as lenient (or as strict) as you want here. Our policy is to honor the request for the first X customers who ask. If it turns into a problem (it usually doesn’t, even though we often say things like “we’ll give you money if you just ask” in blog posts like this), then we’ll say something like “Sorry, we are only able to honor the discounted price to customers who purchased during the promotional period.” Be prepared to handle requests of this nature so they don’t catch you off guard.


Promote Your Sale Through Email

Hopefully you’ve been using some method to collect email addresses from potential customers. If not, watch Kim’s presentation here on how to setup an email capture landing page with PMPro. You’ll want to send out a few emails promoting your sale. Maybe one teaser before it launches and then an email every day the sale is live. I wouldn’t worry too much about sending 4, 5, or 6 emails in quick succession to your list. For sure, some people will unsubscribe, but someone who unsubscribes from your mailing list when you are offering your biggest discount of the year is unlikely to become a future customer.

Remember to exclude existing paying customers from your promotion emails. Most email marketing platforms offer a way to “segment” your email list.

If your existing members can take advantage of your promotion unless the promotion applies to them as well (i.e. lock-in special rates, added features to upgrade, etc.), consider sending them a different email specifically targeting them. The perfect message for existing customers is going to be different than the message you use for first time buyers.

Another segment you may want to consider is past customers who may have let their membership expire, only made one purchase from you, or other forms of single-engagement with your company and products. You can send a different email to this group that specifically addresses their unique case.


Promote the Sale on Your Site

Some sites choose to keep their BFCM deals a secret except for people who have gotten the discount code through other sources. I think if you’re going to run a sale and want it to be as effective as possible, you’ll want to promote the sale on your site. Visitors viewing a 50% discount on your site are going to be much more likely to purchase than normal and should make up for any lost revenue.

Some popular places to display a sale on your website include:

  1. Page Banners and Boxes
    You can use Memberlite’s page bottom banners or a plugin like Holler Box to add a message with your discount code to the bottom of each page. We also like the plugin WPFront Notification Bar, which adds a bar across the top of your site with text and a button.
  2. Popups and Popovers
    You can use something like Optin Monster to show your discount in a pop up when users are about to leave.
  3. Automatic Discounts
    You can auto apply your discount code to all products on the site or simply drop the prices of your products with the normal price shown with a strikethrough.

Create a Landing Page

There are many ways to create a landing page, so focus on the simplest method for your customer to get to the offer. Black Friday and Cyber Monday create a sense of urgency to purchase, and more often then not the person making the purchase has already been eyeing up your products. Make it as quick as possible to close the sale.

  • Using a Discount Code

    If you’re using a discount code, you can link to your product’s checkout page with the discount code set as a parameter in the URL. With Paid Memberships Pro, you can find these links in the “Levels” column of the Memberships > Discount Codes admin page or simply add &discount_code=blackfriday to the URL of your site’s checkout page (assuming your code is blackfriday).

  • Redirect to Checkout via a Custom URL

    Alternatively, if you are using PMPro, you can use code like this in a custom plugin to redirect /blackfriday/ to the checkout page for a level the code is for. This shortened URL will be easier to share in social media.

  • Customized Checkout Page

    If you have time, consider creating a new page at /blackfriday/, /cybermonday/, or /bfcm/. You can customize that page to speak directly to BFCM shoppers. You can create a new theme template or use custom CSS to adjust the display of that page. Maybe make the background black instead of the default on your site.

    If you use Paid Memberships Pro, you can create a separate checkout page for a specific product:

    1. Go to Pages > Add New in the WordPress Dashboard
    2. Paste the [pmpro_checkout] shortcode in the post editor along with any other custom sales copy or images
    3. Add a new “Custom Field” named pmpro_default_level. The value of the custom field should be set to the Level ID you want to default to.
    4. You can use custom code like this to autoset the discount code if you have one
    5. Save and publish your new custom checkout landing page!

Use Snappy Graphics

There is going to be a lot of competition for your customers’ attention BFCM weekend. Get into the spirit of things and use some snappy graphics to make your emails, social media posts, and promotions stand out. If you aren’t a graphic designer or don’t have the time or budget to hire one, you can use an app like Canva to make a promotional graphic. If you’re using MailChimp, the MailChimp Mobile Apps offer some nifty, simple and attractive email campaign templates.


Promote the sale everywhere—get listed to increase traffic.

Once you have your campaign in place, reach out to blogs and mailing lists in your industry to get your promotion listed.

You’ll of course be promoting your sale through your own Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Grandmother’s knitting circle, but there are other ways to get the word out. Many blogs and mailing lists are designed to exclusively aggregate BFCM promotions. For example, you can find a list of sites that did Black Friday round ups for WordPress products last year by Googling black friday WordPress 2016. You can do a similar search for your industry and find the aggregators that best fit your products. Reach out to these sites via their contact form, email address, or social profiles. Trust me, they want to hear from you. You can also reach out to leaders in your industry that would be willing to tweet your promotion to their followers.


A special offer to our Paid Memberships Pro-powered sites.

We’ll be publishing a list of membership sites running BFCM promotions here on our site and newsletter. If you’d like your sale included in that list, please submit the details here. We just need your site name, URL, and a short sale description.

Submit Your Promotion Now

 

Paid Membership Prices Increasing Soon, Lock in at a Discounted Rate Now

When Paid Memberships Pro launched in June 2010, our single goal was to become “the community solution” for membership sites on WordPress. We’ve achieved that goal. Today, developers and site owners setting up a membership site on WordPress consider Paid Memberships Pro the best option.

I’m very proud of the value we have delivered, not only for our PMPro Members, but for all users of our 100% free, GPLv2 plugin.

Continue reading for information about the upcoming price increase and a special discount offer we’re extending to new members through September 9. Rest assured that this pricing change will NOT affect our existing members in any way.


A little backstory.

In July 2015, we introduced our PMPro Plus plan and began charging for automatic updates to our premium Add Ons. Even though our Add Ons are all open source on GitHub, thousands of customers have chosen to purchase our support plans. Revenue from these customers has funded the continued maintenance and development of Paid Memberships Pro and our growing library of 70+ Add Ons.

In the past year, we have expanded our support and development efforts with 2 full time-team members, bringing us to 4 part-time and 4 full-time team members in all.


We’d like to do more.

Our plan is to use the added revenue from new pricing to offer a better support experience for our members. It is our goal to speed up response times, provide a deeper level of development help, and offer communication by live chat or phone.

To reach these goals, we have decided to change our pricing for new customers.

  1. We no longer offer PMPro Core (support only) membership for new customers.
  2. Plus membership is now $297/yr. (renews annually at $197).
  3. We will begin limiting license keys for Plus membership to just 5 sites. Note that our license key tracking will be done in a very liberal way to account for multisite networks, development, staging, testing, and temporary sites. Existing Plus members will not be restricted by these limits, but may be contacted if their key is active on a large number of sites to ensure that their key hasn’t been shared publicly.
  4. We are introducing Unlimited membership at $997/yr. (renews annually at $697) for customers who need a license for more than 5 sites.

This pricing change will NOT affect our existing members in any way.

Current Plus members will be grandfathered in to the price they originally paid for Plus membership. If you have been paying $47/yr., you will continue to pay $47/yr. If you have been paying $147/yr., you will continue to pay $147/yr.

We will continue to support existing PMPro Core members until the end of their current payment periods, after which they will be able to upgrade to the PMPro Plus level at a discount.


Last chance to purchase Plus membership at $147

For the next week, our Plus membership will be on sale for $147 and Unlimited membership will be on sale for $497. We rarely run discounts. Our prices will probably never be this low ever again.

The sale has officially ended. Current membership pricing is available here.

As a reminder, a Plus and Unlimited membership offers the following benefits:

  • 60+ premium Add Ons from our website with automatic updates through the WordPress dashboard.
  • Paid support forums, staffed by experienced WordPress/PMPro developers.
  • 100+ advanced code recipes for customization of your membership site.
  • Webinars, videos, and developer chats.
  • The knowledge that you are supporting our team to maintain and develop Paid Memberships Pro.
  • 100%, no questions asked, 30-day money-back guarantee.

This entry was posted by Jason Coleman in About PMPro, Business and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Last updated: . Titled Paid Membership Prices Increasing Soon, Lock in at a Discounted Rate Now

How Our Sales Increased 18% by Adding an Auto-renewal Option at Checkout

A couple years ago we started allowing our customers to optionally setup automatic renewal at membership checkout.

This post covers how many customers choose the auto-renew option, and how many of those customers actually renew. I’ll also provide some stats on users who manually renew. These kinds of stats should make their way into the Memberships > Reports dashboard sometime soon.


Renewal Stats from the PMPro Plus Launch

The data below tracks the renewal rate for members who initially purchased PMPro Plus membership between July 28th and August 9th, 2015. During this time, customers were incentivized to choose the auto-renewal option since it locked them into the lower $47/year price instead of the coming $197/year price. Let’s compare the renewal rate for customers who selected automatic renewal vs. those who had to manually renew.
Sales Data for Initial Purchase
Total Sales: 695
Revenue: $26,350
Yes Auto-Renew: 515 (74%)
No Auto-Renew: 180 (26%)


Automatic Renewal Sales

2015 – Initial
515 (74%)
2016
288 (56%)
2017
229 (44%)

Of the 515 users who checked the auto-renew option, 288 (56%) of them had a paid order 1 year later in 2016, and 229 (44%) of them had a paid order 2 years later in 2017.


Manual Renewal Sales

2015 – Initial
180 (26%)
2016
5 (2.8%)
2017
3 (1.6%)

Of the 180 users who didn’t check the auto-renew option, only 5 (2.8%) had a paid order 1 year later in 2016, and 3 (1.6%)  of them had a paid order 2 years later in 2017.


Renewal Data Recap

Perhaps unsurprisingly, users who checked the auto-renew option were much more likely to actually renew. In this case, they were 20 times more likely to renew. Total sales for the same 13 days in 2016 was $25,759. $13,771 of that (or 53.5%) were the 293 renewals at $47.

The above stats are for a promotional period when there was a lot of incentive to check that option since it meant locking into a lower price. Let’s look at similar stats for a more regular period when membership was for the full $197 and there was no incentive for checking auto-renewal since even users who manually renew get the same $50 discount (although the wording of our checkout page might still encourage it a bit).


Renewal Stats for PMPro Plus from Winter 2016

The below stats are for our PMPro Plus members only who made their initial purchase between January 1st and March 31st, 2016. These members paid the full price for membership and were shown a box to optionally set up automatic renewal for $147/year.

In this data set, the stats have almost reversed, with twice as many customers leaving the auto-renewal option unchecked.

Sales Data for Initial Purchase
Total Sales: 489
Revenue: $92,599
Yes Auto-Renew: 150 (31%)
No Auto-Renew: 339 (69%)


Automatic Renewal Sales

Initial
150
2017
110
Renewal Rate
73.3%

Manual Renewal Sales

Initial
339
2017
50
Renewal Rate
14.7%

Of the 150 users who checked the auto-renewal option, 110 (73.3%) of them had a paid order 1 year later. Of the 339 users who didn’t check the auto-renew option, only 50(14.8%) of them had a paid order 1 year later.

Total sales for the same 3 months in 2017 were $126,770. $23,520 of that (or 18.6%) were the 160 renewals at $147.


Conclusion

There are many factors that go into why a user would renew their membership that are hard to suss out of this data. Besides changing our pricing, running promotions, and updating the formatting and language of our checkout page; we were also releasing product updates and running content marketing campaigns throughout the year. It’s hard to tell if these other factors played a bigger or smaller role in renewal numbers. We also can’t tell how many of the users who checked the auto-renewal option would have been more likely to manually renew.

Still…the data is pretty clear in that users who checked the auto-renewal option were 5 to 20 times more likely to actually renew there memberships one year later. When you account for failed payments, cancellations, and eventual refunds, more than 50% of users with auto-renewal setup resulted in a renewal payment one year later.

 

If you are using Paid Memberships Pro, you can add a renewal option to your checkout using our Auto-Renewal Checkbox Add On.

View the Add On

Further Testing

Some things to test further would be actual A/B tests within the same date range where some customers were shown the auto-renewal option and others were not. We could A/B test offering a renewal discount or not. It also might make sense from a revenue stand point to require automatic renewals for all customers or at least default to having that option checked. If auto-renewal was required, you would likely have more refunds for users who don’t want it. (We’ve seen a lot of cases where users cancel immediately after checkout to clear up the subscription.) Still, you probably would get more revenue to make up for those refunds.

 

How to Respond to a Chargeback or Dispute

This post covers some methods to deal with chargebacks – when a member disputes their charge for membership.

In some cases, a chargeback is actually fraud, whether it is a stolen credit card or PayPal account login. What I’d like to talk about now is a misuse of chargebacks: when a member is grumpy or lying about payment fraud just to get their money back.


What are chargebacks and disputes?

A chargeback or payment dispute is when a customer denies the payment.

Even if you offer a refund policy, there will be some number of customers that decide to simply call their bank and initiate a dispute. This could be because of (actual) fraud, dissatisfaction with their purchase, or they are just a despicable person who got their goods and don’t want to pay for it.

Your merchant account or payment gateway will let you know that someone is disputing a payment. You will then have a window of time to respond to the dispute and “make your case” for why the chargeback is not valid. If the chargeback is not ruled in your favor, the value of the disputed transaction as well as a merchant or gateway-imposed “fee” will be deducted from your account. See Chargeback Fees by Gateway »

First, locate the user’s membership account and disputed order.

My first step when dealing with a chargeback is to locate the user’s membership information and get some background.

  1. Go to Memberships > Orders in the WordPress admin.
  2. Search for the disputed order using the gateway’s “transaction ID”, or the “Invoice ID” on the order.
  3. If you don’t have a transaction ID, you can try searching for the user by Name or Email Address (the data you get about a dispute varies by gateway).
  4. Open the user’s profile in a new tab.
  5. Open the disputed order in the current tab.

Now, be an investigator.

In most cases, a membership site is a “virtual product”. This makes disputing a chargeback a bit more difficult—how do you prove you delivered what they have purchased?

  • Search your email program to see if the user had communicated anything with you directly, either prior to purchase or after.
  • If your membership site has any engagement methods, such as a forum or comment forms, see if the user has participated in these things.
  • Do you have an email newsletter? If so, access the user’s record in the email marketing tool you use to see if they have opened your messages.

    That’s a pretty high engagement rate for someone who “hasn’t received” my product.
  • You can also use the Visits, Views and Logins Report under Memberships > Reports to present activity for the individual user. Have they been logged in and using your site?
  • Better yet, if you are using the Better Login, View, Visits Report, you will have even more data about the user’s activity on your site.

    Wow, sure looks like you have been using your membership?!

Was it actual fraud?

If your investigating makes you 99% sure it was a stolen payment method used for purchase, just accept the dispute. It stinks. You’ll pay a fee. But it was actually fraud, and you don’t really have any recourse for this case.

You can prevent some fraudulent charges using the methods outlined in this post.


It isn’t fraud – I want to fight this dispute!

If your investigating leads you to believe this person just wants their money back, you should respond to the dispute and make a case for why it isn’t a fraudulent purchase.

 
Before I begin the process of fighting a dispute, I always email the member directly. I’ll ask them to withdraw the dispute and communicate that I will refund their money [how-to].

This never works. Most often I get no reply. But occasionally, I’ll get a weird reply like “I just didn’t have enough money so I said this was fraud.” Luckily, you can use this in fighting your dispute, so even if they don’t withdraw their dispute, you’ve gotten some more ammunition to win your case.


Responding to a Dispute

The method to respond to a dispute varies by gateway, but in general you will be asked to write a statement and provide supporting documents about the purchase. In the case of a physical good, they will ask for proof of shipment (and you may even have proof of delivery depending on the shipment method).

For all other purchases (digital goods, downloads, access, subscriptions, etc.), proving that the charge was not fraudulent is a little more involved.

First, write a statement that clearly describes the situation:

This user purchased a membership that includes access to a private forum. The user participated in several discussions as well as personal email communication with me. Please refer to the included documents with proof of these interactions.

Additionally, I am including files that show all details this user entered when creating their membership. Their name and email address as communicated to me matches that on the dispute and the payment method used.


Then, take screenshots and create PDFs of EVERYTHING

The supporting documents I generally include are:

  • A PDF “print” of the user record in the WordPress dashboard.
  • A copy of the membership confirmation email I receive as admin when they made purchase.
  • Copies of any direct communication they made with me.
  • Copies of any proof of participation on my site (comments, forum replies, contact form submissions, etc.)
  • A copy of the email marketing service’s details about their email opens.
  • A copy of your refund policy, if offered, that would show they had another method to get their money back.

Now you wait.

After submitting your evidence, the payment gateway or merchant will communicate with the user’s bank to make your case. This can take anywhere from a week to two months.

I hope the dispute is sided in your favor!


In most cases, the seller will lose the dispute.

The person filing the dispute has far more protections in place than you. And in most cases they are being defended by a credit card company fully motivated to make them happy. Even when your payment gateway does their part in presenting your evidence, more often then not the seller will lose the dispute, pay the fee, and have the funds returned to the buyer.

There is some comfort in knowing that you did your best to provide honest information about the charge and to defend yourself from this type of abuse. I’m sorry you didn’t win.


What’s next?

When you lose a dispute, make sure you remove the membership level for the user. And if you are feeling particularly upset about it, you can use one of these methods to block users from logging in, selecting or changing membership.

You can even write them a really nasty email. Just don’t send it. Just go read Jason’s post on dealing with hate.

Dealing with Haters and the Stress They Cause

Entrepreneurship is hard. To run a successful business takes knowledge, skill, and money. It also takes a certain kind of personality to persist through the innumerable issues many entrepreneurs struggle with. Some business owners struggle financial risks, competition, failures, and more failures. Some struggle with the responsibility of providing for one’s family and employee’s families.

There’s one more thing many business owners struggle with: hate. No one was talking much about this, but as our business grew, I found I was unprepared to deal with the increasing amount of hate mail and negative interactions happening online around our company and products.

I thought I was coping well, but in reality the stress was getting to me. Work wasn’t fun anymore, and the stress was bleeding into my personal life. I found myself more angry and quick tempered around my wife and kids.

I’m not alone. In conversations with other entrepreneurs, this topic of dealing with hate mail and negative communications often comes up. I notice some people are avoiding certain business models or business opportunities all together for fear of becoming a target of hate. Our community needed tools and support to deal with the hate that is a natural part of doing business with large numbers of people. Below I’ll share some of things I’ve put into practice to deal with hate and the stress it causes.


What are some things you do that can invite hate?

Anything.

Getting hate? That’s a good indicator that you are working on something that people are passionate about. Because anything worth doing is going to upset someone.

At this time, there are over 50,000 websites running Paid Memberships Pro. The 80/20 rule we use to decide on features is only going to satisfy… wait for it… 80% of them. There will always be features that some users believe are the “most important” features. Even if we provide addons or code gists to account for a certain feature, some will feel the feature should be included in the core plugin, or easier to find, or set to a different default.

You can’t help everyone.

When we were doing consulting work with about 30 clients per year, if a client needed our help with something, we could find a way to help them. We’d work a weekend, stay up late, call in a favor. Now with 50,000 users and 5,000 customers, we can’t possibly help everyone as much as they need. We get dozens of emails every day, and within those emails are plenty of people we have the ability to help but we just don’t have the time. We do the best within the services we offer and try to point them in the right direction to get help from our partners or others, but some of these people are going to get upset.

And some of these users, customers, and potential customers are going to be so upset that they’ll post negative reviews, email us mean things, or even threaten us with legal, financial, or physical harm.

What are some things you do that can prevent hate?

Before I cover a few tips about how to handle hate that comes your way, let me first share a few tips on how to avoid some of the hate.

  1. Offer a 100%, no questions, money-back guarantee.
  2. Process refunds quickly.
  3. Manage expectations in your copywriting.

I cover these topics a bit more in our posts About Refunds and Our 100% Money-back Guarantee and Great Advice for Decreasing Refund Rates.

Managing expectations is hard. There is a fine line between managing expectations and talking people out of buying your product. One thing you definitely can do is keep expectations in mind when processing a negative review or email. Could you have realistically prevented this hate mail without negatively impacting your other customers or revenue.

Dealing with Hate You Can’t Prevent

Here are some general steps I take whenever dealing with an emotionally charged email, review, or support request.

  1. Look for constructive criticism.
  2. Write a first draft. Delete it.
  3. Put yourself in hater shoes.
  4. Reply professionally.

Look for constructive criticism.

Even the most hateful of emails and reviews can be parsed for constructive criticism. The messenger may be a complete douchebag, but it’s still okay to learn from it. Maybe there is a bug to fix. Maybe you could update your documentation to make something more clear. Maybe you could update your sales copy to fix expectations.

Don’t like feel you have to take Mr. or Mrs. Hateful’s advice just because they are screaming. Be counscious whenever the “squeaky wheel” is getting the grease. Ideas you parse from negative feedback might be a good or bad. Process it like you would any other feedback.

Write a first draft. Delete it.

Open a blank notepad (that you can’t accidentally submit) to write your reply. The first draft should just be livid and dig into how much of a loser this person is for wasting your time… etc etc. Then delete it. Maybe others won’t need to unload like this, but I find it helps me a lot. It makes it much easier then to step back and address the message objectively.

Put yourself in hater shoes.

Your first response is going to be to lash back or get defensive. That’s why you delete your first draft. After that, take a moment to try to understand why the person is so upset. Some people are just rotten and evil, but maybe they are just having a really bad day. Until proven otherwise, give the user the benefit of the doubt.

One thing that opened my eyes a lot with regards to the hate mail we get is when I realized that we are selling more than just payment software. In a lot of ways we are selling a dream. People dream of using our software to make money, start a business, quit their day job, or to grow their associations in order to push forward their goals of social change. Heavy stuff. They spend hours or days trying to set up Paid Memberships Pro, run into problems, and then reach out to us… just to have to wait a few days for a response or be told they need to spend money they weren’t ready to spend. It is frustrating.

I also think about the “professional hagglers” who’ve been trained by bad customer service over the years to believe that loud threats are the best way to get someone’s attention. Sometimes “flipping the script” on these folks and treating them like human beings goes a long way to calming them down enough so you can help in the way you are willing to help.

Reply professionally.

No matter how irate the original message is, make sure that your reply is controlled and professional. With public posts in particular you will want to address the underlying concerns and issues behind the message. Even if it’s likely the poster has moved on (or you want to encourage them very much to move on), reply for the sake of anyone else who might stumble upon the post. Always reply to bad reviews or comments.The public will see a very irrational negative post, followed by your very rational reply. If your average reviews and publicity are generally positive, your replies will temper the occasional negative post.

Dealing with Stress

So now you might know how to pull useful feedback out of a hateful email. You’ve learned some tips for avoiding some of the hate mail. And you’ve learned a rough system for handling and replying to the hate mail. Even if you try your best to do this with robotic repetition, reading hateful words with your morning coffee is a bad way to start the day. You’re likely to get defensive and experience a nice little rush of adrenaline that could set you off balance for the rest of the day.

In addition to the typical stresses of running a business, as far as my mind and body are concerned I’ve been doing the equivalent of a hostage negotiation 2 to 3 times a week for the past few years. Here are some things I do to manage the stress:

  1. Mediate
  2. Isolate
  3. Use the Buddy System
  4. Engage Happy Customers

Meditate

I’m not a prolific mediator, but even 5 minutes of calm mindfulness every other day or so (I use the calm.com app) gives me a kind of super power. When I started meditating regularly I became better able to slow down, to recognize my natural emotional reactions as just emotions that will pass, and to step outside of myself a little bit so I could process hate mail and negative comments without taking it personally.

Meditating has also helped me in my personal life. Regular meditation helps to curb your knee jerk reactions when managing unruly kids, and it helps in the same way with unruly users and customers.

Isolate

I try not to read contact form email while I’m still getting your kids ready for school. I don’t check the WordPress.org reviews before a meeting or a coding session. In general, I make sure I’m ready whenever I wade into the inboxes and forums where hate lurks.

After dealing with support or another piece of stressful work, I try to have a buffer before I move onto anything else in life. I’ll take a walk, play a quick video game, or meditate for 5 minutes or so.

Use the Buddy System.

For a while, I had been shielding Kim from the worst of the communications coming into our business. As I started to struggle with things, I handed contact form duties off to her. She started to process the wide range of email coming in, from good-natured questions, to slightly annoying requests, to the full on hate mail. A week or so in, she looked at me with a horrified face like “you’ve been dealing with this all along?”

We have a larger support team now, and most of them bear the incoming hate at some level. The worst cases still get escalated to me, but since the smaller issues are handled by my team I’m in a better state when I work on the cases I do address.

Our team chat is now also a place we can use to vent, get stuff off our chest, and just generally laugh at how surreal customer support can be.

If you don’t have a team of your own, you can search for other business owners going through the same thing. The Supporting WordPress Products Facebook Group is a great example of a place where business owners come together to help each other through sharing advice and also just being there to listen.

Engage Happy Customers

Unhappy customers are going to be so much more likely to post something in public than customers that don’t run into issues. Every once in a while, and also as part of some of our automated reminders, we try to prompt happy customers to post a review or testimonial. We will often follow up to successfully closed tickets with a request to share an honest review of our plugin on the wordpress.org repository. And every once in a while, we make an ask to our mailing list for folks to write reviews and testimonials. We get a lot of positive feedback from these asks, and the positive reviews on wordpress.org help to diminish the 1 star reviews there. (For each 1 star review we get, we need 3 five star reviews to maintain a 4+ star rating.)

Besides getting some nice things written about us and helping with Internet points, reaching out to happy customers also reminds us why we’re doing this. It feels good to engage with people who are benefiting from our hard work.

In Summary

The amount of hate you have to deal with day to day will scale with the size of your business, and you may not be ready for it.

There are some things you can do to avoid some of the hate, like 100% money-back guarantees and clear copywriting. However, you won’t be able to stop it all.

When hate comes in, look for constructive criticism, discard your first drafts, try to empathize, and reply professionally.

To help with the stress of dealing with this hate, meditate, isolate, use the buddy system, and engage with happy customers.

These kinds of posts are difficult for me, because I fear what our own unhappy customers will think of this. I’m ready for it. But I do hope that my experience here is useful to other businesses working to keep their customers as happy as possible while also staying sane and productive.

Let me know if you have any thoughts or tips with regards to dealing with negativity with your customers.