If you want to sell stuff on your site, you're going to need to be able to take payments. You're going to need to be able to process credit cards or Paypal.
You're also going to need some kind of delivery experience for people after they've become customers.
How do you do it?
In this guide, I want to explore the various options for you.
I want to explore the use of third-party services (like Teachable or Kajabi) versus building your own platform on WordPress. I'm also going to present to you some proven bundles that are sure to work together if you decide to go the WordPress route.
Let's get into it...
Selling Using Third-Party Services Vs Your Own Site
Right out of the gate, let's address the choice between selling stuff right on your own site versus using a third-party service.
Many people choose to use a third-party option mainly as a way to avoid the perceived complication of setting it up "in house". Even if they'd rather do it on WordPress, the idea of doing it feels scary and they feel they'd need to get into bed with some shady developer just to get it done. In comparison, using a trusted third-party platform feels like a good idea.
- Teachable. Popular with course creators. Processes sales as well as gives the full management platform. Fully hosted.
- Thinkific. Also popular with course creators. Similar to Teachable.
- Gumroad. An easy way for creators to sell and deliver their digital products.
- Clickbank. Popular way to sell digital products when you want access to their extensive affiliate network.
- Kajabi. Full platform for selling online courses, memberships, etc. It is a proprietary platform designed to essentially run your whole business.
- Clickfunnels. Another end-to-end solution for building your sales funnels, processing payments, and essentially everything.
Each of these options (and there are obviously others) could warrant a whole review of their own. And each service is quite good in their own way.
In general, however, I'm not a fan of using these kinds of third-party services.
First off, they are expensive. Kajabi, for instance, runs $119/month (paid annually) for the cheapest plan. Teachable will run you at least $99/month to get something similar to what you could build on WordPress. Gumroad is pretty affordable at only $10/month, but the platform is also more limited in capability.
Secondly, they are proprietary. It is their software, hosted on their platform. Which is fine as long as you keep paying for it. If you ever want to move or grow weary of the payment, however, then it is usually quite the project to move to another platform. There's often no export process. It isn't as if they're trapping you... it is just that it doesn't easily translate over into another platform.
As an alternative, you can build your OWN platform right on top of WordPress.
Yes, there are still costs involved. But, it is usually much more economical than using a third-party service. Plus, you've got the flexibility and the control. You can do whatever you want with your own site without worrying about whatever limitations those other platforms may have.
As I said, many avoid the WordPress-focused option out of fear. They see it as complicated and would rather run into the arms of a company that will hold their hand.
I really do understand. 🙂
But, I'm here to tell you, there's nothing scary about setting this up with WordPress. And once you've done it and learned some of the ropes, you'll see why it is a more streamlined way of doings things in the long run.
So, let's discuss how to do exactly that. 🙂
First Things First: Stripe and Paypal
Generally, I recommend being able to take both credit cards as well as Paypal. Give people a choice on how to pay you.
Technically, you can take credit cards via Paypal. However, it is less direct. The checkout process by Paypal is designed around the Paypal service and it entices people to log into their Paypal accounts. This can sometimes cause confusion to people who just want to use their card and don't want to use Paypal.
If you do not yet have a Paypal account, sign up for one. Either personal or business Paypal account will work.
Next, sign up for an account with Stripe.
Stripe is perhaps the most popular and supported service for processing credit cards. When you look at their homepage, it has a lot of "geek talk". But, ignore all that because all that is taken care of automatically by the software you will choose to sell your stuff.
Stripe will allow you to process credit cards and manage transactions. It will settle payments with your bank account every weekday automatically.
Once you have those 2 accounts, we can turn our attention to your actual website.
The Basic Components You Need On WordPress
WordPress is your basic framework. To make it do the things you want it to do, you're going to add some components.
Now, I am not going to present to you every possible option you've got. That is not the point of this tutorial.
See, one of the reasons people flee to those third-party platforms is to avoid the overwhelm of all the options you have with WordPress. People are simplifying... by simply having less options. Yet, with WordPress, there are a ton of plug-in options and it can be rather overwhelming.
I don't want to overwhelm anybody.
So, I will present just a few options. The ones that, in my experience, are the most flexible options that will work for the most people.
#1: Your Theme(s)
I have 2 themes that I am a massive proponent for. They are:
Theme Builder is a theme platform. You don't have to like the way it looks "out of the box" because you can mold it into anything you want using the visual builder. For this reason, it is essentially the "universal theme". Between Theme Builder and Architect (both part of Thrive Suite), you will have far more flexibility and power to do whatever you want than any of the third-party platforms could give you.
Not to mention, Thrive Suite also has Thrive Apprentice which can manage your online courses for you, too.
Now, BuddyBoss is a different beast. It is what I use inside THE LAB. BuddyBoss is, in my view, almost the perfect membership site theme.
We won't dive too deeply into themes here because it doesn't have a lot to do with processing orders. However, both themes will work nicely with our sales system. Both work great with WooCommerce (more on that below).
#2: Your Sales & Delivery Platform
OK, this is where we get down to brass tacks.
You've got 3 main things you need to set up here:
- The checkout system (aka "shopping cart")
- The delivery setup (how to give them what they just paid for).
- A communication system to talk to them. Basically, your email list.
There are a lot of different combinations that could be used to do all this. That's one reason people sometimes go cross-eyed seeing how it all works.
Here's some systems that I think work really well as shopping carts:
- WooCommerce. This is the big kahuna for building any kind of online store on WordPress. It can be a little beefy, but it is also insanely flexible. You can make it do whatever you want using the right add-ons. And it is very well supported through the community. Hard to go wrong using WooCommerce.
- Easy Digital Downloads. A much simpler (yet powerful) plug-in for processing sales on WordPress. Delivers digital products beautifully. It handles the sales side of things, but since it is all in WordPress, you can create any kind of after-sale experience you want. I am now personally using Easy Digital Downloads and have used it for clients. It's a solid option.
- Thrivecart. This is a third-party, hosted shopping cart and not part of WordPress. So, it is quite different than the other two. It is very easy to use, but currently is being sold as a one-time lifetime option. So, while it is third-party, it doesn't come with a monthly bill (yet). For this reason, it is worth considering if you want the convenience of a hosted solution and the support, but without the fixed recurring fee.
Now, another option here is to use a membership site plug-in. Something like Wishlist Member or MemberPress. These plug-ins all have built-in integrations with Stripe and Paypal so will enable you to make sales easily.
Membership site plug-ins are usually positioned as full-stack platforms for making the sale, managing accounts, protecting paid content, etc. Many also automatically associate the phrase "membership site" with recurring billing.
Keep in mind, however, that a membership site simply means people are paying for access to content. It does not mean it has to be done on a recurring basis. You can sell something just once and it is still a membership site.
So, membership site plug-ins are clearly great options for selling stuff on your site. No matter what it is you're selling. You can sell one-off products, coaching, services... .all via a membership site plug-in.
As an extremely capable (and my preferred) alternative to a typical membership site plug-in, I recommend WP Fusion. This is what I use and I often use it for clients as well.
While WP Fusion is not positioned as a membership site plug-in, it is perfectly capable of protecting content and doing everything you need. It literally fuses your WordPress site with your CRM. WPFusion blows away most membership site plug-ins, but sometimes flies under the radar in that department because it isn't technically a membership site plugin.
Recommended Bundles For Your Convenience
Even as I am writing this post, I realize how potentially confusing this can be. There's so many options and so many areas of overlap that it can be quite confusing to know what to choose to power your site.
So, what I'm going to do is break it down into bundles.
These are bundles that I have used and tested. I know they work. Each has it's core strengths and I will point that out for you.
Bundle #1: The Most Cost-Effective
First, here's the bundle that will mean the least upfront cost:
WooCommerce is totally free and quite capable on it's own. If you want to do recurring billing, you will need the WooCommerce Subscriptions add-on.
Thrive Suite gives you almost everything you'll need with one purchase. It will cost you $228/year.
This bundle will have you selling online courses quickly and easily with the least upfront cost.
Bundle #2: The Simplest
This is just a slight twist of the above bundle. In this option, we'll be using Thrivecart instead of WooCommerce. So, your bundle is:
BTW, Thrivecart is NOT part of Thrive Suite. 🙂 I know the names make them seem like they are, but they're indeed very different companies.
Thrivecart requires one upfront investment. After that, you have it forever. It is very easy to use, integrates with almost everything. It is a great tool to have in your arsenal for quickly and easily selling anything you want. It also integrates directly with Thrive Apprentice, so you can sell your online courses.
This option will cost more because of the upfront cost of Thrivecart, but it is a simple, elegant solution.
Bundle #3: The Simplest Membership Site
For this, we're going to more purposely add membership site functionality.
We'll stick with Thrive Apprentice for the online courses for the sake of simplicity. And, Apprentice is more than capable of requiring logins to courses all by itself without any membership component.
However, some people like the convenience of a membership plug-in such as Wishlist Member or MemberPress. These plug-ins not only process the sale, but they also provide the functionality for people to manage their own accounts, view order history, etc.
So, the bundle would be:
Wishlist will work with a number of payment systems as well as directly with Stripe and Paypal. However, as you will read in my review, it works beautifully with Thrivecart. This would be quite a powerful and easy-to-use combo.
Apprentice also works with MemberMouse, but I can't say I recommend it anymore. I used to. I used to use it and was a huge fan. But, I moved on and I think you should avoid it today. You can read here all about why.
Bundle #4: The Most Flexible
Now, we're switching gears. Instead of trying to be the simplest or cheapest, we're going to build a very capable platform that can be grown to do anything you want.
While I still love Thrive Themes tools, for this bundle we need to look elsewhere. As great as Thrive Themes is, their tools are not very flexible when it comes to third-parties. Thrive Apprentice, for instance, has very few integrations.
So, to build a "dream" membership site that can sell anything you want and basically do anything, here's the bundle:
- BuddyBoss (theme and platform)
- Learndash (for online courses)
- WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads (for the shopping cart)
- WP Fusion
Now, to be clear, you don't need BuddyBoss for this. You could use any theme you want. Even Thrive Theme Builder. But, BuddyBoss is pretty purpose-built for membership sites and that's why I think it is a great fit.
LearnDash is far more capable than Thrive Apprentice. While Apprentice can help you do the basics and present online courses nicely, it is not a full learning management system (LMS) like LearnDash. Learndash can do anything you want.
Using a WordPress-based shopping cart for a membership site is just... better. In fact, this is a major reason why I am slowly converting many of my sales to Easy Digital Downloads instead of Thrivecart. I really like Thrivecart, but it is really hard to beat the power and flexibility of having the sales setup right inside the membership. It means things like:
- Members can make repeat purchases without having to re-enter credit card details.
- Members can self-manage their own account (with Thrivecart, they have to access a "Customer Hub" which cannot be branded consistently).
- The entire checkout and account experience is right within the framework of your membership, so it looks far more professional.
- The cart already knows who they are if they're logged in, again reducing the need to redundantly ask for info we already know.
Thrivecart can process orders great. It is easy to use. But, the fact that it is a third-party hosted cart separate from WordPress means there will always be limitations on how seamless you can make the checkout experience. Having it all "in house" means a much more streamlined setup.
Lastly, WP Fusion is the glue which brings it all together. It is what will control access to things people have purchased. It does it all in conjunction with your CRM (which I will discuss below).
This platform is a full online business platform. Very powerful. Very flexible.
A Word On Your Choice of Email Provider
Clearly, you need an email list solution of some kind. It is part of the platform. And I didn't include one in any of the bundles above.
Regardless of the bundle you use, any of these email providers will work. But, let me spell out my preferred options:
- ConvertKit. This is the platform I recommend for most people today who want to use a hosted solution. It is quite capable and it is very hard to go wrong with it.
- ActiveCampaign. An extremely powerful marketing automation CRM.
- Drip. What I use personally.
Now, any of those solutions with great with WP Fusion. So, if you want the most powerful and flexible platform for your business, any of them will work. Even if you go with a simpler, less flexible option, these systems work great.
More recently, however, I'm becoming more comfortable and a bigger fan of FluentCRM. FluentCRM is an email list solution and marketing automation platform that works right inside of WordPress. It will then send the emails using a third-party such as Amazon or any other you choose. This option is much more economical.
FluentCRM and WP Fusion also work together nicely, meaning FluentCRM can serve powerfully as part of the software stack to power the most flexible platform you'd want.
If you want the most bang for your buck to power your online business platform or membership site, it is hard to beat the combo of WP Fusion and FluentCRM.
To be clear, though, FluentCRM is a newer product. Very nice as is and developing quickly. But, surely, systems like ActiveCampaign or Drip are going to be more capable. So, this is just a matter for you to decide how cost-effective you'd like to be.
A Simple Cost Comparison (As An Example)
In order to bring things home and make the point to you about why I'm such a big fan of building this "in house" on WordPress over using a proprietary system, let's talk costs.
Two of the popular hosted options are Teachable and Kajabi. One is $99/month and the other is $119/month. Capabilities are different, of course. But, just for the sake of this comparison, let's just average things out to a cost of $100/month.
NOTE: Yes, I know Teachable has a $29/month plan. The reason I am choosing the $99/mo plan for this comparison is because it is closer to what you could do on WordPress. Their basic plan is way more limited.
So, we'll assume a fixed cost of around $1200/year to power your selling platform.
Now, let's look at WordPress.
- WordPress. Free.
- Hosting. The $10/month plan with Cloudways will likely be more than adequate. So, that's $120/year. Read my Cloudways review.
- Thrive Suite. $228/year.
- LearnDash. $159/year.
- WP Fusion. $247/year.
- FluentCRM. $129/year (for one site).
- BuddyBoss Theme. $228/year.
Where we're at here is $1,111 per year.
Now, for the sales side, if we went with WooCommerce, we can stop here. Since WooCommerce is free. Easy Digital Downloads is free for the core plug-in, but you'll likely need/want some of the add-ons. So, EDD could run you $199/year or you just buy the add-ons you specifically want. If you go with a membership plug-in, that will have it's own cost.
Keep in mind, too, that we're doubling up some things here in our cost analysis. For instance, you don't really need Thrive Suite and Buddyboss at the same time. So, you could throw one of them out. Personally, I use both but on separate sites since I keep my membership separate from the blog.
In the end, here's what we find...
Either the WordPress option will cost you much less (depending on the bundle you go with), or roughly the same (if you go with the most powerful combination).
Yet, with WordPress, you're not locked in anywhere. You can move the site anytime you want. You can change anything you want. You're in total control of everything.
For me, that's priceless. 😉
This isn't just about saving money. You don't choose to use WordPress just to save a few bucks. It is more about the combination of control and flexibility that comes with it.
Need Some Help?
As I said before, the most common reason people find themselves using those proprietary systems that lock you into their system is confusion over how to build it in WordPress.
If you're pretty sure you'd like to go the WordPress route, I'm available to help you do it. In fact, it is a big part of what I do these days.
Here's how you can get me involved to help you get it done:
Option #1: A Technical Consult
You can book a call with me where I will listen to what you need and want and give my recommendations to how you on how best to proceed. I'm familiar with way more tools than just the ones I've talked about here, so I will customize my recommendations to your needs and budget.
This will be more of the DIY route in that you will do the work yourself. But, I will help you through the overwhelm of software choices so you have an exact checklist.
You would only need one credit on your member account to book the call. Easy peasy. Click here to learn how that works.
Option #2: I'll Build It For You
First, we'll do a call together to work out the specs that will work for your project. Then, I'll go in and build it for you.
Now, using the credit system we use here for services, this is really flexible. Either I'll be there as a support role and we'll do it together. Or, I can build most of the site as an upfront project.
In fact, I hold licenses to much of the software you'd want to use and I could fully assemble the site for you without you having to worry about much at all.
For my fully managed clients, we usually set you up on Cloudways so I can help manage your hosting experience for you. You may have to acquire a few licenses yourself, but many times I have a client license I will use as part of the project.
Everything is done to empower you, tho. I have zero interest in recommending or building anything for you that locks you into using me as your developer. Zilch. My interest is to build you a working platform, show you how to use it, then hand you the reigns.
To learn more about technical services, click here. You can also contact us to ask any questions.
In the end, WordPress is an AWESOME platform for any kind of online business. And I really think that's the way you should go over getting stuck into some proprietary system.
I hope this post has given you an idea of your options.