Prior to 2020, business was going super well for us as well as for our clients. We were taking on larger and more complex website builds… our yoga studio clients were making plans to expand into bigger spaces and additional locations… our live event clients were plotting out big tours to support album releases. And, then, along with the rest of the world, March of 2020 brought things to a screeching halt on all fronts. We, alongside our clients, saw revenues plummet, plans canceled, and visibility into the future hit zero.
In the face of all of that, the topic of building recurring revenue became firmly front-of-mind, and it hasn’t receded. Both internally and for our clients, building recurring revenue streams means business stability and resiliency in the face of the unknown. No matter what your area of professional or personal expertise is — songwriting, fitness instruction, somatic therapy, plumbing & electrical, bookkeeping — you’re an expert at something. Why not monetize that expertise and establish a recurring revenue stream that in good times pads your savings account, in bad times positions you to weather the storm, and positions you as an expert in your field, again and again?
Here we’ve collected some basic ideas for ways you can use a website to create a revenue stream that will support you and your business, even when things that are out of your control impact your normal work day.
Recurring Revenue Strategy #1: Ad- and Sponsor-supported Content
Creating your own content, making it available for free, and then monetizing it with ad placements is one of the easiest and most passive ways to get started. Whether your medium of choice is words, photos, music, video, or live streaming, starting a blog or a social media channel is a low-friction way to get started building your content library. You can start creating content without a bunch of upfront costs (other than your time), and use freely-available tools (like Google AdSense, Affiliate links, or brand sponsorships) to implement various types of ads.
“The way AdSense works is by serving ads that are relevant to the content appearing on a specific page of your blog. For example, if your blog is about adventure travel and you’ve just uploaded a post about a trip to Reykjavik, AdSense might show an ad about travel insurance, Iceland or warm clothing. As the owner of the site where the ad is appearing, AdSense pays you when a user views or interacts with an ad.” (source)
This is the space where influencers cash in (especially affiliate links and sponsorships); the revenue doesn’t come directly from followers/readers/subscribers, but from third parties. Revenues in this space likely won’t be as high or as predictable as under strategies #2 and #3, but the barriers to entry are lower. Plus, you can immediately leverage your customer or follower base and start earning quickly, which can support ongoing content creation efforts — On YouTube for example, channel can make $18 per 1,000 ad views — as you work towards creating gated, subscription-based content curated for specific target audiences. If this strategy really speaks to you, you can take a deep dive into YouTube monetization here.
Pros: Once your site, channel, or social profile is set up, your primary work will be to create more content and then let the $ flow. The more content you create, the more your earnings will build, because your older content will still be generating revenue even as you’re adding fresh content.
Cons: You’ll need to be posting and promoting your content super frequently. Even if you’re only posting to your website once a week, you’ll need a heavy, consistent presence on social media. If spending hours daily on social media sounds hellish, this option may not be for you.
Recurring Revenue Strategy #2: Print-on-demand and Downloadable Products
The landscape of online marketplaces is chock-full of easy-to-use platforms that allow you to sell digital and physical products without any initial investment other than your time. Whether it’s a résumé template on Etsy, a t-shirt design on Threadless, a WordPress plugin on Envato, a font on Creative Market, photos on Shutterstock, or even a book using KDP, publishing your unique creations to your favorite marketplace allows you to create one design and profit from the sale of it over and over.
While you can choose to market your creations yourself, it’s totally possible to employ this strategy without worrying about marketing (at least ot start). You’re essentially creating a body of work that doesn’t require any overhead to maintain, and if you’re selling these items on a marketplace (instead of your own website), you will benefit from your products appearing in the marketplace’s search results. Depending on how saturated your niche is, the customers will often find you instead of you needing to reach them.
If you have any knowledge of Search Engine Optimization, it will pay off when employing this strategy, because you can use product titles and descriptions to target specific keywords used in searches on the marketplace. Then, once you have a large enough body of work and/or you’re ready to only sell your product via your own website (instead of a marketplace), you can start to spend more time marketing your products and less time creating them… you might even choose to outsource creating new products while you focus on promoting your brand.
Pros: You can get away with doing less ongoing marketing using this strategy, which means it’ll be cheaper/easier to outsource that marketing. You also don’t have to rely on your own personality to sell things, as the quality of your products will be the most forward-facing part of this approach — it’s ultimately the products being marketed, not you.
Cons: Ya gotta make a lot of widgets to see significant returns. Products will have a lower return per item sold than a subscription or a course, and you’ll likely want to make new things regularly that are inspired by trends and current events. Paying attention to the zeitgeist is required for this strategy.
Tools for DIY recurring revenue
At BIPi, we really love WordPress tools for this (like WooCommerce, Restrict Content Pro, and Memberful), but if you’re planning to DIY your site, these platforms and tools are built with you, the non-developer, in mind:
- Kajabi – online courses
- Patreon – content subscriptions
- Wild Apricot – membership & community management
- Teachable – online courses promoted through a marketplace
- Substack – paid newsletter subscriptions
- Mighty Networks – courses, membership management, events, and more
… and don’t forget that Squarespace’s top tier plan has subscription capabilities as well!
Recurring Revenue Strategy #3: Subscriptions, Courses, and Gated Content
This is the sweet spot for folks with sparkling personalities and/or deep expertise in a given area. You can leverage your professional and personal experience to educate and support others who are willing to pay you directly for your expertise. Whatever you’re an expert in, there will always be folks younger or less experienced than you who will find your guidance valuable.
Additionally, this strategy is great for partnerships and collaborations. You can join forces with other experts in related fields to create richer, deeper content libraries and expand your reach into your partners’ audience(s).
Key to this strategy is cultivating a community among your audience. Facts and figures and how-tos are great, but what will keep your revenues rolling is a commitment to tending your community. Like gardens, and websites, regular maintenance and attention is what will result in the biggest yield. Whether you moderate a Facebook group, offer a slack workspace or discord server, or host regular live events for your subscribers, plan to engage regularly.
Pros: Once you’ve made the content, it can be used in an evergreen fashion, so eventually you can move on from spending most of your time creating the content to focusing on marketing it. The original work you did can be packaged and re-packaged to reach different audiences and pay off over and over again.
Cons: You’ll need to give subscribers ongoing value to bolster the core content. This means you may find yourself moving away from your area of expertise (the subject matter) into spaces like community management or marketing. If you’re not prepared to build and grow the community that starts to coalesce around your expertise, you’ll need to expect to outsource that work.
Still not sure where to start with generating recurring or passive revenue via your website? Call on your support system
If you’re feeling blank-page paralysis and don’t know how to break free, start by reaching out to the people who know you best. There are likely lots of places where your enthusiasm and expertise aren’t visible to you, but are super obvious to those who know and love you. Is the hand-lettering you’ve been doing on your yearly holiday cards actually a professional-level skill that you could teach to others? Are the memes you make when you’re bored actually ripe for slapping onto a print-on-demand coffee mug? Is what you learned while self-publishing your first book information that lots of other people would benefit from knowing?
All that you really need to get started in building out a recurring or passive revenue stream is the desire to do so. The what isn’t as important as your commitment to making the expertise you’ve gained over the years pay you for the work you put into building it.
You might be interested to know that this post was created with the help of generative AI tools like ChatGPT. Find out more here.