10 factors for evaluating WordPress recurring billing solutions

chrislema-face

You want to charge people money, over and over? You have options.

Over the past several months, I've been working with a client to transform his offline business into an online business. It's a subscription business—which means he charges his customers every year. And his site will be running on WordPress, as a membership site—something I know a little about.

Of course, as we did an analysis of his needs, we really need to look at all the options, not just the familiar ones that we all know and love.

What's most important, when you're looking at your options, is an evaluation criteria.

So here's what I explained to him, and what I hope helps you as you look at all the players in the field.

Note: This isn't a post about WordPress plugins. It's a look at how to evaluate the options – many of which aren't WordPress solutions at all, but can be integrated with WordPress. 

The Evaluation Criteria: 10 Factors

1. Payment Gateways

The first question I start with is whether my client has a specific payment gateway, and whether the solution being considered supports it. I start with this one because I've spent way too many hours looking and testing a solution only to find out (after all that time) that a specific gateway was needed and the solution I was looking at didn't support it. I hate wasting time. So this is first on my list. Some solutions will be their own gateway (like Stripe), while others will support a ton of them.

2. Integration And APIs

I know this is very tech-oriented, but that's not why it's second. It's second because most people are going to end up wanting something that may not be available in whatever plugin is available for WordPress. If you look at Chargify and Recurly, for example, those plugins are basic. So when you know what you want, and you want to integrate your solution with WordPress, make sure it has an API and easy integration so that you can hire a developer to help you out.

By the way, do they integrate with Zapier for all the other things you don't think about right away?

3. Variety of Product Definitions

You want recurring revenue. So logically you want a subscription engine. I get that. But what else do you need? Do you need one-time charges as well? What about upgrades? Downgrade offers? Do you need add-ons? Do you need setup fees? What about trial periods?

You might even get more complicated.

Do you need to bill for variable usage? If you're building a project management site that charges $20/month for up to 20 projects, but then $5 per every project after that, you'll need something fancier.

Or are you driving your price by another variable, like quantity? If you're building a solution where every login adds a cost (to a single subscriber), you'll want a solution that supports it.

Did I mention tiers? As your customers buy more, will they need a change in pricing? Make sure your solution supports it.

4. Taxes & European VAT

If you need European VAT support, you'll want a provider that's able to verify your purchaser's location, create invoices, and calculate the right VAT. But even if you don't need European VAT support, you may need US taxes collected based on jurisdictions or tax rules. It's nice if you need it and it shouldn't be something you wait until the last minute to think about.

5. Subscription management

It's crazy that subscriptions land at #5, but all those others are pretty critical. That said, if you're looking for a billing platform, you better make sure that it will support what you want it to do, from a subscription perspective.

  • Can you determine the length of subscriptions (in days, weeks, months, years)?
  • Can you determine the renewal date of a subscription (and pro-rate when needed)?
  • Can you attempt to get authorization for a subscription renewal early?
  • Can a person hold more than one subscription at a time?
  • Can you create easy upgrades and downgrades?
  • Can you pause a subscription?

6. Billing Failures

It's not top of mind, but it will bother you down the road if you find out your solution doesn't support a variety of options when you can't renew a subscription. I mentioned it above, the notion of trying to get a renewal authorization early, because that's one approach some people take. But there are other dynamics—credit cards change—and you want to make sure your solution has a way to handle it.

7. Portability

One of the things my clients care a lot about is their ability to leave a billing platform if they're unhappy—without losing all their customer data.

So as you evaluate the variety of solutions out there, make sure you ask the question about what might happen to that data if you decide it's time to break up. Will they give it all to you? Will they port it to another vendor of your choice?

8. Currency Support

If you have customers from across the globe, can your solution support multiple currencies? Will you be able to charge in any currency you want? Will you be able to translate that back to a single currency when you're trying to compare reporting data?

9. Discounts And Coupons

You're looking for a solution for charging people money, and I understand that, but you may also want to give them discounts after a certain amount of spending they've done with you. Or you might want to create a coupon after a certain period of time. Or you might want to distribute a single coupon to a massive amount of people and not have your billing platform fail. Either way, make sure this is on your list to dig into.

10. Reporting

It's last because reporting is always the catchall, but it's certainly not least. Are you able to get the reports you want? More importantly, will you need specific reports that may not be canned, and can you get those? Will your platform support sending you regular reports? Will it support sending them to clients (for metered usage, for example)?

WordPress recurring billing isn't about WordPress

What you notice is that my criteria never says anything about WordPress. That's because recurring billing is its own challenge and problem worth solving.

You want to solve the recurring billing platform choice first, and then integrate it with WordPress. Sometimes you can do that with a direct integration straight into your code, like dropping in a PayPal link or button. You can also do that with Stripe. Other times you might use WooCommerce and WooCommerce Subscriptions with the Memberships extension. That's a pretty snug fit that does a whole lot of good for a lot of folks.

But in the case of the client I mentioned above, we ended up having to go outside of WordPress for billing, while still integrating everything back into WordPress.

At that point, our options were several.

There are many recurring billing platforms

For us, on this particular day, we chose Recurly, and so far, we're really happy.

Either way, whatever you decide, I hope this criteria helps make sure you don't rush in without knowing what's critical for your project to succeed.

And I hope it helps push you to talk about the kinds of features you and your site may need, when it comes to WordPress sites that need recurring billing.

About Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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