Learn how to create a training based membership site on WordPress the easy way without limits with Jonathan Denwood from WP Tonic in this episode of the LMScast podcast hosted by Chris Badgett from LifterLMS. Jonathan has a great podcast called the WP-Tonic Show where he interviews members of the WordPress community about various topics each week.
Chris goes on Jonathan’s Friday round table show semi-regularly, which is a really great discussion on things that are happening in tech and WordPress, and even in the elearning space. But in this episode we really get into what Jonathan offers over at WP-Tonic.com. If you’ve been around in the LifterLMS space for a while, you may have run into Jonathan or seen his podcast. But you may not know he’s also been growing his hosting solution and specializing on the membership site creator to solve some of the friction that comes with WordPress.
In the past, if you wanted an online course website you’d have to go with a dedicated platform like Kajabi or Teachable, and you can only work with what they offer out-of-the-box. But with software being available in native form for WordPress and the ability to build landing pages, and plugins like LifterLMS, it’s become much easier to build something that’s much more flexible and that you own that is the equivalent or better than Kajabi. There used to be a lot of hoops to jump through, but in the middle of 2021 WordPress evolved and can now offer more powerful design, functionality, ownership, and possibilities, which you cannot get with a system like Kajabi or any of the other SaaS based learning systems.
To learn more about Jonathan Denwood head to WP-tonic.com and check out his hosting options and the tools he offers. They have great pricing for what you can do with their packages. If you’re looking for the simple path in the Goldilocks zone, as Jon describes it, you’re getting the best, and you’re not over-complicating it. Save yourself the months or years of shopping and trying all these different tools and just trying to figure it out, and maybe 20 weeks of your life on YouTube trying to decide, and just go with one of these plans.
And at LifterLMS.com you can learn more about new developments and how you can use LifterLMS to build online courses and membership sites. If you like this episode of LMScast, you can browse more episodes here. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us!
Chris Badgett: You’ve come to the right place if you’re looking to create, launch, and scale a high-value online training program. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I’m the co-founder of LifterLMS, the most powerful learning management system for WordPress. Stay to the end, I’ve got something special for you. Enjoy the show.
Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. I’m joined by a special friend and repeat guest, Jonathan Denwood. He’s from WP-Tonic. That’s over at WP-tonic.com. Welcome back on the show Jonathan.
Jonathan Denwoo…: Yeah, I’m like a repeating rash, aren’t I? I keep coming back, don’t I Chris?
Chris Badgett: Something like that. And Jonathan runs… If you’re listening to this in your earbuds on the podcast network, Jonathan also has a great podcast called the WP-Tonic show. I used to listen to that show a lot in my early days of WordPress and now I-
Jonathan Denwoo…: You’re not listening to it now then?
Chris Badgett: Not as much but I do come on-
Jonathan Denwoo…: Oh, come on Chris. That’s a good start for this interview.
Chris Badgett: I do come on his Friday round table show semi-regularly, which is a really great discussion on things that are happening in tech and WordPress and even in the e-learning space. But I want to get into it with you today Jonathan, on what you offer over at WP-Tonic. I’ve watched you grow this hosting and specialize and focus in on the membership site creator that solves a bunch of the friction and the hassle that comes with WordPress. To start, just for the listener if they haven’t heard of you yet, let’s say on one end of the spectrum we have Kajabi, for someone who wants to do a membership site or online learning thing. And on the other end of the spectrum, there’s somebody who’s never really used WordPress and they hear about all these tools and plugins and hosting and things they need, video hosting and all this stuff. You sit in the middle. So, can you lay out this landscape of the two ends and then what you do at WP-Tonic?
Jonathan Denwoo…: Oh, that’s like one of my questions, isn’t it? Well how long have we got? I must be having some influence on you, Chris, as a podcaster. Well, I think in some ways it’s also linked to the road of WordPress because we’re in a very strange kind of… You can feel it in the WordPress community, but there’s been some fundamentals improvements in what WordPress can offer, which have diminished really, in my eyes, the value that something like Kajabi brings. No offense to the Kajabi team because I am really embedded in the WordPress ecosystem and community, but Kajabi has been excellent on their marketing and their marketing message. And they’ve not been shy at pointing out and attacking what they see as the fundamental flaws of WordPress.
Chris Badgett: I think a lot of software in the e-learning space, they always attack WordPress. It’s a thing they do. Yeah.
Jonathan Denwoo…: I wonder why?
Chris Badgett: And many of them have WordPress to do their software marketing site. They’re literally using WordPress while they attack it.
Jonathan Denwoo…: It’s always hilarious, isn’t it? But so they’ve been… But the reality is that with marketing automization, software being available in native form for WordPress and the ability to build landing pages, and plugins like yourself, like LifterLMS, it’s become much easier to build something that’s much more flexible that you own that is the equivalent or better than Kajabi. And you honestly couldn’t say that about 18 months ago. You probably couldn’t honestly say that without a lot of knowledge, a lot of hoops to jump through, but in the middle of 2021, I would say that what WordPress can offer is better and more powerful and you have the design and functionality, ownership and possibilities, which you cannot get with a system like Kajabi or any of the other SAS based learning systems.
But there is a slight problem. The problem is that in some ways there’s too much choice in the WordPress community and there’s too many experts, too many voices for understandable reasons, trying to market themselves, build a business, just like myself, just like you. And there is no one perfect way of building a membership website or a learning platform. But I think there is a clear way of building a system that offers the most functionality, the most flexibility, but there’s so many different voices. It causes a lot of confusion for somebody who just wants to build a membership site or a learning platform to know what is the best. It’s just too much choice out there.
Chris Badgett: I see that where people are in these shopping modes. Even today, I don’t always take sales calls, but this person was so just lost in the sea of options in and outside of WordPress. And they just wanted to talk to somebody so that they can make the right decision and they’re exhausted through how much they’ve been just exploring all the different options, not knowing which way to go. So you at WP-Tonic created your own hosting options that basically has all the stuff you need all rolled up into one package that makes sense, it’s the true all-in-one. Tell us about this hosting package.
Jonathan Denwoo…: Well, what we’re attempting is to bring the best of breed of what is available from different plugin providers. We offer your plugin because we think it’s one of the best of breed. If you’re looking… If you’re really serious in building, not just one course… Starting off with one course, but you’re looking to build a real business online around education, you should really start with a learning management system at the core, right? And we feel that your platform is one of the best in the WordPress ecosystem. And then we use fluent CRM because we think it’s one of the best that offers marketing automization. So I could go through… We have a very extensive list of plugins-
Chris Badgett: I’m just going to… I just want to read these off just to help the listener. Imagine going into Costco or Walmart or something like that with all these options, and then you have curated this down to best-in-breed stuff. So in addition to what you’ve already mentioned in these packages are Buddy Boss, Astra, Elementor, Affiliate, WP, Short Pixel, Convert Pro, WP Fusion, MailPoet, CartFlows, Amelia, Essential Addons, Ultimate Addons, Uncanny Automator Pro, and that’s just the plugin stuff. People need-
Jonathan Denwoo…: And it’s over $3,000 worth of software there isn’t it?
Chris Badgett: Yes. And people need all this other stuff, whether they realize it or not, like security monitoring, backups, video hosting, image compression, all this less sexy stuff you put in there.
Jonathan Denwoo…: Includes a very generous email system as well. With the the basic plan, 5,000 subscribers, you can send unlimited…
Chris Badgett: Broadcasting.
Jonathan Denwoo…: Marketing and the internal email to those 5,000 subscribers. That’s unlimited, that’s extremely generous.
Chris Badgett: This is the thing, because kind of position lifter LMS as a all in one solution, but it’s not entirely accurate because you still need all this other stuff to make the thing happen. But I think that the beauty and the simplicity of what you’ve created over at WP-Tonic is that they just have to go to one place and sign up.
Jonathan Denwoo…: I want to be clear here because I wasn’t totally clear. It was a feeling. It was a frustration I was having that created WP-Tonic and the way I’ve taken the business over the past two years, it came from the frustration of dealing as a freelancer with clients anyway… Well it’s been over two years, it’s been almost a three year journey… Is that I seem to be having the same conversations, but it’s clarified to me what the other real core thing I need to get across is that we choose the best of breed. B.
ut what we’re not doing… And I don’t want to be overcritical because it’s just a philosophy, it’s just my opinion, but what we’re not doing is what Thrive Themes and some other theme plugin platforms offer, which to me is what they offer is understandable but it’s the worst of all worlds is that they’re offering a enclosed garden based on WordPress. So you don’t get the benefit of being able to choose from the best of breed, you’re enclosed in their version of WordPress, but you then don’t have the true kind of indicate integration and slickness of design that you might be able to get from Kajabi.
So in the way, the kind of platforms like Thrive Themes and this… Hopefully I’m not coming across as too critical because they would have their own arguments against my one. So the listeners will have to make their own judgment call, and the team at Thrive Themes, Shane and his team, are excellent people. But I think going down that route where it’s an enclosed garden of their plugins and they have their system and it doesn’t work that well with outside plug-ins is the worst of worlds. What we’re offering is we make sure all the plugins work together and we support what we give to the client. And also we keep everything secure and we provide quality hosting, which is another… When you’re starting, most people do not understand, they’re actively mislead about how much and what will work for them. There’s so much disinformation about hosting, isn’t there? We try and provide a solution that offers them all the benefits of WordPress and diminishes some of the painful parts of the expense.
Chris Badgett: I’ve always said that the benefits of WordPress without the hassle is like a great kind of value proposition, or way to position something that you’ve done here by putting a customer at the center of your business, like the would be course creator coach, membership site person. And then surrounding them with the suite of tools that they need at a great price so they get best-in-breed and the same time they still get the flexibility of WordPress and everything. But they’re not starting with a blank screen, scratching their head, realizing that they’re only 10% of the way through what their shopping journey for tech.
Jonathan Denwoo…: The only bug bear…And I’ve had to really work on the language and the offering, is that we offer really great hosting. And as a free part of our setup, we can set up the whole thing for the client using a theme, one of our themes from the Astra family. And we can set up LifterLMS with WooCommerce and CartFlows. We set up the whole thing with a dummy course that you provide. At the present moment we use Elementor, but obviously at some stage we might change that and offer Gutenberg and Elementor, or just go to Gutenberg. We’re totally open. We’re not religious at WP-Tonic, but we will set up the whole theme and in the near future we’re going to be improving the onboarding and the educational elements that we provide. But in a long winded way that I need to get to, we can set up a dummy course, set all the structure, but then you’d still have to go in and learn how all these bits work.
We have a long list of videos that you provide, other people have provided. We can send them to the client, we’ll send them two of those videos, but they’re still going to educate. We’re going to essentialize that using LifterLMS, but you still have to do it. And a lot of clients still… and in truth, you would have to do that with Kajabi. And I think sometimes Kajabi… I’m trying to be totally fair, but I’ve got to say that I think they push their marketing a little bit too far. They actually give the impression that you won’t have to read… If you’re not used to setting up a website or kind of website application that you’re not going to have to do enormous big dive with Kajabi, but that’s not the truth. You’re still going have to read up and learn all the bits. But it’s the same thing with us, we can set it all up, but you’re still going to have to do a big dive. But some clients, they think somehow we’re going to do everything for them for $55 a month.
Chris Badgett: Well, that’s why you’re in the middle. You’re not there’s software and then there’s service, right? And you have some service elements to help them get started, but it’s not a complete handoff kind of situation, which is what allows you to do such great pricing.
Jonathan Denwoo…: We off fully customizing the home page, semi-custom of the whole website, full custom build up, build outs. And we offer that service as one of our packages. And it starts at $1,500, which I think is excellent value, but we do a lot to assist. And for the people, we will keep all the plugins and as long as the people that are using it, if they want to install a plugin that we haven’t installed, we will do it for them. As long as we can test it and see it doesn’t make the whole website unstable. So we do that as part of the $55. Plus we provide all the security backup and quality hosting. So it’s a superb value. Plus for those people who think that they when they build functionality they would want our assistance, we offer all sorts…A five layer of support packages for all types of people on their journey or connected to how they’re building their business. So we offer a lot of choices and a lot of flexibility, Chris.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. I think that’s really smart. And again, this is how I believe in building companies as well, which is you just put the customer at the center and you surround them with what they need. They need a site. Maybe they need some custom work, some service, and maybe they want like a recurring support plan. You’re just basically giving them… You’re solving all the pain points and if they want to solve, they have to pay for it. Let’s talk about one of your customers. I know you had a music instructor on your site. Tell us about that story, the relationship, how do you fit in to what that musician wanted and needed? And the site’s been up for a long time and doing really well. Tell us about that experience.
Speaker 3: He’s Scott. If you go to our design packages, he’s on that particular page.
Chris Badgett: And this by the way is at WP-tonic.com/portfolios.
Jonathan Denwoo…: Yeah. He’s a very good… I love music, but I have no musical talent, so I can’t judge, but he has a very large following on social media as a saxophone player. And he came to me because he was extremely frustrated. He loved your plugin. I won’t name them, but they are very well-known hosting provider. And he was with them and they had given him a merry chase about promising him things that didn’t materialize. And it was all fine. What a lot of people forget, and a lot of them it won’t apply because they haven’t built up community, but if you have built up community and then you just unleash a course and you don’t stress test it, things are not going to pan out. Especially with what I classify as gross misinformation that unfortunately a lot of big, main hosting providers give to their clients.
I’m not going to my individual hosting providers. A, it would expose me to, to their anger, and secondly, it’s an industry wide problem of giving poor advice and unrealistic price levels, which shows itself as soon as the course goes live, and it just melts in front of the entrepreneur. And who do they blame? They don’t blame the hosting. They tend to blame LifterLMS and WordPress in general. But the truth is they’re crappy hosting, they’re godforsaken hosting. So that was the situation he was facing, he had done a very effective job of promoting-
Chris Badgett: He had all the right material. He’s an expert, he’s got a following. I’m checking out the site now, which looks incredible. And at this time, at this recording, it’s around $30 a month and there’s nine courses in there and different pathways for skill level and stuff like that. I can see this guy had like a really clear vision of what he wanted.
Jonathan Denwoo…: He knows what he’s doing. But he was so… And I’m always available for a chat through the website, I’ve made it really easy to book a Zoom. And I try and have as much of these conversations as I can personally like yourself, you still try and keep yourself a verbal. And he had a Zoom with me and he was so, so fed up. He said, “I just want to be a musician. I just wanted to offer a course, I just want to offer value, and I just don’t want to deal with all this nonsense.” And he came on board and I think… I can’t speak for him, but I think in general, he would say he’s experience with WP-Tonic, he’s achieved exactly what he wanted.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, looking at it, this looks so solid, and I can tell he’s doing what he wanted to do and the site does the job and it looks beautiful. It makes the money happen. He’s getting his recurring revenue. There’s a musician-
Jonathan Denwoo…: Everybody’s happy. It’s a win-win, isn’t it?
Chris Badgett: Yes. And I’m sure he’s getting a very high multiple on the price that you get paid… He’s doing… I like to say in business, when I design a product or a service, I want my customers to at least get 10 times the value. Usually it should be a hundred times the value. So Scott is paying-
Jonathan Denwoo…: That’s a high metric, isn’t it?
Chris Badgett: That’s how I think about it. That’s how you make a no-brainer offer. When I look at your offer, you’ve got like $3,000 worth of software rolled into a low monthly price, so you have tons of value. And then your services and just your industry expertise and your client management skills and everything.
Jonathan Denwoo…: Well it must be… Obviously you’re not going to name names either, but you must because of your type of plugin, you must be extremely frustrated with the misinformation and the nonsense, the enormous amount of nonsense that spread around about hosting and WordPress?
Chris Badgett: It’s truly… When I think about the mission of a company like Google, Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information. The stuff that ranks high in a Google search as somebody like this musician is shopping for software and tech and trying to get to the truth is really challenging. I understand why this industry is just… It’s so hard for people to find their way it’s and it’s kind of like the Wild West, I guess. But I’m glad that you’ve popped up and are…I’ve watched you make a pivot to really focusing in on this type of customer. And I think that as you get to know this type of customer, which I’ve been working with for about a decade, they have very specific needs in that journey into getting the tech, where they need it to be, so they can then focus on all the other stuff they need to do as an education entrepreneur, is quite… There’s a lot of landmines to step on going through.
Jonathan Denwoo…: The other factor, and hopefully you would agree with this, I think you’re going to, the other factor which is endemic, is this problem of people, business owners, I call them learning entrepreneurs… I think we’ve only seen the start of this industry where it could go with. Learning is going to be the growth most important industry of the 21st century. There’s no doubt in my mind.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Learning, healthcare and finance. These are the big meta trends, areas that are disrupting and just changing rapidly right
Jonathan Denwoo…: But what I’ve seen with a lot of people, I’m not sure if it’s peculiar to the WordPress community, it’s not specific. What I’m going to say, specifically doesn’t apply as solely to LifterLMS, is that people when they get in and they’re looking to build their business… And I suppose it really depends if they’ve got any kind of budget or they’re just doing this totally bootstrap and they really haven’t got much resources, I suppose it really does depend. But let’s say they’ve got some kind of resources. They still get sucked in to this world of what theme, what should I be using? What plugins should I be? What marketing automization plugin in the WordPress ecosystem? And they get sucked in to it. And what they should really concentrate in on is, how am I going to effectively market this first course? How am I going to get the beast rolling? How am I going to get this business… And they forget about that is the most important bit. They just get sucked into all this other stuff that I feel doesn’t really matter.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, a couple of things there. I’m also obsessed with this problem. There’s three main things in front of which plugin and which theme and the tech and whatever. The most important ones for you folks out there listening is who is my customer. That is very important. A lot of people are very inward focused, like, “I want to make money online. I want to have an online business”, but flip it around and focus on who is my customer. The other one is content. Like, “Am I creating free content? Whether those YouTube podcasts, blog posts, something, that’s going to be in place to start planting the seeds of attracting my target market?” And then the third is community, “How am I building community or interacting in other communities?” I see you, Jonathan. I have a Facebook group as do you, but I also go out into the world. So the Membership Mastermind Facebook group, it’s a great, by Mike and Kelly, great group of people. I just go in there and-
Jonathan Denwoo…: He barred me from that.
Chris Badgett: Well, I go in there and I help people, and the key with that is to not be overly-
Jonathan Denwoo…: I don’t think he liked… Being he’s a fellow English man, I don’t think he appreciated my humor, Chris.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, but community building is super important, whether you start a group…The website and which plugin… If you don’t know who your customer is, you’re not doing the reps and the sets on making content, getting into that, putting some out for free, not just trying to sell everything in the future and then community building, all that stuff is super important. It’s not, “Which form plugin should I use?”
Jonathan Denwoo…: Well, you got to have a functioning website and you’ve got to have people to be able to register and pay for your course. You’ve made it pretty easy to do it. It’s just that people have a tendency to… When they’re starting out, they want to kind of build something which is suitable when you’re two to three courses in, when you’ve established there’s a market, there’s always a place in time. This isn’t done and you walk away. This is something you will be working on and building out. And it’s almost like a living organism.
Chris Badgett: That’s what I think about it.
Jonathan Denwoo…: And hopefully it grows. It’s not a static, you’ve got to get everything done it all at once. And having a really good, reasonably good looking website and having the basic functionality and then really concentrating on the free things that you’ve outlined is the important thing. But I see so many people just get… I don’t know what it is, and I think you’ve thought about it a lot, but I still sense and I might be wrong, that you still haven’t formulated a complete answer, and I haven’t. They’re still sucked into to this world where they think of the more complex it is, the more the navigation, the offering, the size of the course, blah, blah, blah. And they totally forget they’ve got to build up a community. They’ve got to market this course.
Chris Badgett: I think I might have an idea here of what happens. A couple things happen. One of them… This is like building a house, right? And in the old days you build like a really small cabin, and then as your family grows, you keep adding onto it or whatever. Because the internet is predominantly consumed through these little screens on laptops and smartphones, it’s a magic trick where we forget that to build something on this little teeny screen, I don’t need the skills of like a master carpenter builder person.
And what ends up happening is once you start learning, it becomes very empowering. It’s almost the power is addictive. Because I remember the first time I put a video on YouTube or I put my first WordPress site up and it hit me that anybody anywhere in the entire world with an internet connection could look at this thing I made. I felt that was just such a mind blowing thing to me that made me addicted to WordPress. And here I am 10 years later still doing stuff and making tech. But I think that power is somewhat intoxicating.
Jonathan Denwoo…: Yeah, and it not only applies to learning, it applies to marketing atomization. I think the same-
Chris Badgett: Like funnels or something.
Speaker 3: Yeah they’re very important, but I’ve known clients and it’s been around Keap, Infusionsoft, ActiveCampaign. I won’t go too much because the client, the person, might be able to identify themselves. But I’ve had a couple of clients, possible clients, looking to move to WordPress, and their markets in automization was with ActiveCampaign. And they’ve shown me what they’ve set up. And sometimes it’s been done by themselves, a combination of being done by themselves and by outside consultant contractor.
And you look at it and you would literally need to a course to understand their own marketing automization.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Speaker 3: You literally would have to do online course to understand it. You literally would have to charge them $500 to spend the five hours to understand how it was all set up. And there’s a certain level where what you get for return for the time and money you’re investing just gets smaller and smaller. There’s a place, I call it the Goldilocks area, that if you spend the time and money, you get a big return.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Jonathan Denwoo…: As it gets more and more complicated, more and more layered, the return you’re getting…And actually, it can go the opposite because your focus is away from what the whole purpose of building this website is about, which is offering education to people. You lose focus and actually it can be damaging, can’t it?
Chris Badgett: Yeah. I think I might call that the over-engineering trap and all of a sudden you’re off on a tangent on some design animation pallet form funnel thing, and you’ve forgot all about your core customer and what they were trying to do. That’s good. It’s important to look at this, and a lot of what we’re saying here too, these are all lessons we’ve learned the hard way on ourselves and stuff, so it takes… My first site, I tended to over-engineer things and the more advanced I got at WordPress, actually the more I started to pull away, strip away, use less tools, get really back to the basics and fundamentals. So don’t beat yourself up. If you’re learning and things are a little messy, that’s how we learn. But the master uses very little, they don’t… They stay simple and elegant. That’s why we like Apple products.
Jonathan Denwoo…: And you know as an experienced entrepreneur yourself, that to repeat service and functionality, you really got to try and keep as much in control and as simple as possible, because by doing that you can repeat wash and repeat-
Chris Badgett: Systems.
Jonathan Denwoo…: But if it gets really complicated, that wash and repeat, you just can’t do it.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s a that’s a solid point. This is Jonathan Denwood. It’s been great to have you back on the show. He’s at WP-tonic.com, go check it out and go check out his hosting options and check out all the tools and the great pricing and what you can do there. Because if you’re looking for the simple path in the Goldilocks zone, as John describes it, you’re getting the best, you’re not over-complicating it. Save yourself the months or years of shopping and trying all these different tools and just trying to figure it out and maybe 20 weeks of your life on YouTube trying to just decide and just go with one of these plans. Any final words for the people and how they can best connect with you?
Jonathan Denwoo…: Well, it’s just great to see a learning entrepreneur using your platform with our hosting and our support and tools, getting success. I think it’s on my about us page, I think I say, “Your success is our success.” And we really mean that. If you’re successful, we’re successful, because you’re happy. And if you’re happy, you’ll tell other people to come to WP-Tonic, and that’s what we want, happy hosting and support clients.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, thanks for coming on the show again, Jonathan. Again, he’s at WP-tonic.com and go listen to the WP-Tonic show podcast as well, it’s a great show with lots of great guests. Jonathan has some really great guests on there that can help people just like you. You do a great job with that show. So thanks again.
Speaker 3: Thank you, Chris. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Chris Badgett: And that’s a wrap for this episode of LMScast. Did you enjoy that episode? Tell your friends, and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next episode. And I’ve got a gift for you over at LifterLMS.com/gift. Go to LifterLMS.com/gift. Keep learning, keep taking action, and I’ll see you in the next episode.