About 4 years ago I began creating my first full-fledged, massive membership site.
I’d created a pretty basic one already, but I hadn’t done anything that was going to involve an elaborate marketing funnel, forums, different membership levels, and affiliates.
Back then, and even to this day, the process is daunting. There are hundreds of services and tools out there you can use for each of those different aspects of the site, each with their own learning curve, and they often they don’t play as nicely together as you’d like.
As it sits, I feel like I’ve tweaked and tested my way to the best possible setup I can have for Location Rebel with my current platform – but it’s still a Frankenstein site of sorts with lots of different pieces connected together.
For years I’ve been wanting to see a more all encompassing system that was affordable, user-friendly, feature rich, and most importantly not overly marketing heavy or scammy feeling (there are a few of those services out there).
A few months ago I finally found what I’d been looking for.
Enter, the Rainmaker Platform.
What is Rainmaker?
Rainmaker is a new content management platform that was developed by the Copyblogger team (which I’ve referenced numerous times on this site).
It’s built on WordPress and the Genesis Framework – but it’s unlike any WordPress install you’ve ever seen.
Rainmaker essentially takes all of the essential components of running various types of online businesses and puts them all under one roof.
Why is this so cool? Because everything works together, rather than fights each other to allow you as the content creator to focus on doing what you do best: creating.
If you’re going to take information marketing seriously, there are a lot of components that go into it – and Rainmaker pretty much has every single one covered. Let’s take a quick look at the things that are baked into the software, and I’ll share what I currently use for each as well in parenthesis:
- Blogging (Self Hosted WordPress)
- Landing Page Creation (Optimize Press 2.0)
- Membership Protection (Wishlist Member)
- Membership Structure and Product Content (Optimize Press 1.0)
- Affiliates (idevaffiliate)
- A/B Testing (Visual Website Optimizer)
- Hosting (WP Engine/Bluehost)
- Podcasting (Don’t have one)
- Forums (Vanilla Forums)
- Payment Integration (Basic Paypal)
- Site Analytics (Google Analytics)
When you look at all of those different services that aren’t necessarily intended to play nicely together, from the creator’s standpoint, it can be difficult – especially if something goes wrong and your technical knowledge is limited (clearly, I’m speaking from experience here!)
Often when you’re trying to create an all in one solution, you do so at the expense of quality and depth of features.
First I want to give you an idea of where I’m at with Rainmaker, and then we’ll take a look at how each of these features works, and I’ll try and give you an idea of why I think this is the best platform for 90% of people who are looking to create a membership site for the first time.
My Experience with Rainmaker
Because it would give me a more stable platform with which to continue growing the community and business, make the marketing side of things even more seamless and effective, and over the long term enhance the user experience within the site.
But with over 1,000 members right now and 4 years of tweaking and perfecting, on half a dozen connected services – that process doesn’t happen overnight, so I haven’t made the transition yet.
However, it should give you an idea of how highly I think of the software.
I have an account and have spent hours going through it experimenting, creating, and making sure I understand exactly what it can do and know how it all works – so I’m going to talk about that experience in this review.
The Killer Features (Why I’m Such a Big Fan)
You have no idea how many
hours days weeks of my life I’ve spent dealing with membership site headaches.
Everything from the simple “I tried to reset my password and it didn’t work.” To incompatibilities with ioncube and php for affiliate software – which over a year later still isn’t fixed. (BTW I have no idea what that means, but it’s something I’ve got to deal with!)
So to have a powerful service where I don’t have to deal with any of this is enough to pique my interest.
But not only does Rainmaker handle the tech side of things, it also has a solid interface for the front end that really makes you feel like you have control over what your site becomes.
When you login you have 8 menus to choose from:
Now you can probably guess what is under each of those, but it can take a little while to figure out where everything is.
Once you spend a few hours with it however, you’re treated to an incredibly intuitive system that packs a hell of a lot of stuff into one robust, streamlined package.
Since it’s built on WordPress, many of the pages you use will also already be pretty intuitive (like pages and posts for example).
Rainmaker will pretty much allow you to create whatever you want. But due to the sheer amount of options, you’re going to want to have a plan for how your site is going to be laid out and flow.
Do you have multiple products or just one big membership site? Do you have a blog, or is the whole focus on the site your podcast?
All of these variables will affect which landing page you choose and how the overall site is going to be created.
Let’s take a look at a few of these site components to show you just how powerful it is.
For me, my home page is going to be one of the most important parts of the site. This is where I want to test out different types of opt ins and offers and try and draw people into my funnel.
After selecting my theme for the site, it took me all of about 5 minutes to get a the basics of my site going. You edit via the menu on the left and see all changes in real time as you modify the theme.
There are a solid amount of themes to choose from, and you shouldn’t have trouble finding one that fits with the goal and vibe of your site. However, I’m looking forward to seeing the Pro Version come out over the next couple months with even more options.
You’re also able to upload a child Genesis theme with a custom design if you want to really go the extra mile and customize the whole look and feel of your site. However, if this is truly your first membership site, I don’t necessarily think you’ll need to go through the extra hassle and expense of doing that.
This is one of the areas where Rainmaker really shines.
For the last few years I’ve been creating all of my landing pages in Optimize Press. Don’t get me wrong, I still think for the normal WordPress user, that’s one of the best plugins/themes out there for landing page creation – but it can take a fair amount of customization to create something that looks unique and non-markety.
Rainmaker, while not quite as robust and customizable as Optimize Press, has done a great job of 80/20-ing the most important components.
You can start with one of their pre-made templates or you can go even more bare and work from a blank template. There’s also a middle ground where you can say I know I want a “video opt in” and it will give you those components and allow you to customize from there.
I won’t lie, it took me a little while to understand exactly how the landing page editor in Rainmaker worked. But once you get it, it becomes extremely easy to navigate and quickly create good looking pages.
So why is Rainmaker so good for membership sites?
Because it allows you to create something that’s robust – while dealing with minimal technical details.
I’ve talked in the past about why I think all things being equal a membership site is better than a simple PDF guide. But to recap:
- It’s easier to create a community
- It’s easier to update and continue creating value
- Higher perceived value
- Easier to display different types of content (audio, video, interactive forms etc)
The list goes on.
One of the things that I think is so interesting about Rainmaker is that it doesn’t matter if you have one flagship product, or a dozen different products, it helps you easily manage both.
It allows you to adjust membership levels just as you could in Wishlist or something similar, create separate landing pages and funnels for different products (when combined with an email service), and easily see all of the most pertinent details of your site and sales in the back end dashboard (daily sales of each product/membership, A/B results, coupons used, affiliate clicks and sales.
And if you do have pdf product downloads (either free or paid) it lets you track who is actually downloading and opening them.
Hosting, Security, and Support
This is a huge one for me.
I recently moved Location 180 over to WP Engine for hosting – and so far I love it (I’ll do a full review on that soon).
On my self-hosted Linode setup, I’m responsible for all security, updates, backups etc. As a non-technical, non-detail oriented person, this can be a bit of a headache.
And if something does go wrong it’s a pretty big deal, because I’m not capable of fixing everything on my own.
WP Engine fixed all of that for this site, however they can’t handle all of the extra services that Location Rebel runs. So I have to spend quite a bit of extra time and money making sure all is smooth.
With Rainmaker, they take care of the hosting and security monitoring. Should something go wrong, they’re support team is on it immediately. It’s worth $1k a year to me to simply not have to worry about any of that stuff.
They’ve also nailed it when it comes to support documentation. Everything is documented in easy to understand language, and they even give you a full account to Copyblogger Authority for even more help with the marketing side of things.
Drawbacks of Rainmaker
However, as with any product or service, not everything will be perfect. And this is also the case with Rainmaker. It’s still in it’s relative infancy so there are a few things that I’m hoping to see improved upon in the future.
You’re stuck inside the box
Unfortunately, Rainmaker’s biggest strength (simplicity) is also it’s biggest drawback.
Rainmaker runs on WordPress, but it’s not your typical WordPress installation. Meaning, you can’t mix and match plugins, and customize whatever you want.
While you can upload Genesis child themes (essentially your own designs), that’s about the extent of the fully customizable stuff.
Sure, you can tweak all of their templates to fit for you, but let’s say I wanted to use Optimize Press for my marketing pages instead of their built in solution – I can’t do that.
So if what you want to do fits into Rainmaker’s box – it will be perfect for you. If you’re a developer or used to being able to tweak, expand, and customize to your heart’s content, you’ll feel somewhat limited by what Rainmaker can do.
As previously mentioned, for the vast majority of people this inside the box approach is a very good thing. It allows you to focus on the things that matter, and not overthink your site or get bogged down in technical struggles.
A Few Feature Requests
Going along with the inside the box approach, there are some features that I would have liked to see that are missing. And due to the way it’s setup, I can’t easily add these features like I can with a traditional WordPress setup.
Here are a few examples:
As your user-base expands in a private community (or even when it’s small), it’s nice to be able to facilitate private interaction within the community.
I know they’re working on it, but as of right now Rainmaker doesn’t have this feature. There are workarounds with email and contact lists, but it still is a powerful feature that I’d expect most forum/community software to include.
Whenever I move over Location Rebel to a new platform, I’m really looking to have more flexibility with my shopping cart and checkout process. Right now it just forwards you to Paypal and then back to the site to register. Rainmaker can certainly help me improve on this.
However, what it lacks is the ability to easily upsell and downsell new and existing customers to differnet products and services based on actions they take and needs they have.
For instance, say someone buys my upcoming product Rebel Launches for $297. It’d be nice to offer them a one time only offer to get in on Location Rebel as well for just an extra $200 – or something to that effect.
More Robust Analytics and Templates
The analytics is currently provides isn’t a replacement for Google Analytics, but it is very helpful to see the essentials at a glance. It’d be nice if I could dive a bit deeper within the system on all aspects of my business.
I know this is coming in their impending “Pro” release – so I’m excited to see that debut.
In that same roll out, they’re also releasing more page styles and templates. Most of the ones that are included are pretty good – but there were only a couple that really worked for what I wanted to do – and I know as Rainmaker gets more popular we’re going to see some sites that are looking pretty similar.
You’re Buying into a Service
One final thing I’ll note that could be considered a downside, is that you’re buying into their ecosystem, platform, and service. The data is hosted on their servers, and hence your access is a bit restricted and limited.
Should you decide you eventually want to move off of Rainmaker – it’ll be a pain to do so. The idea is that it will make your life much easier to have them do it all (and it is), but it does limit your options.
A Few Other Things I Love
It’s difficult to cover everything Rainmaker offers, because there’s a lot to it.
However there are a few other things I wanted to mention.
They’ve built Forum capabilities into the system using the WordPress forum software BBpress. This is one of the easier forum setups to use, and very quickly you can add forums to your site or products – which is a huge value add and I encourage anyone creating online products to have one (granted you have to do it the right way, but that’s for another post).
Although as mentioned, I do hope to see private messaging added soon.
Sales Page Templates
This is a simple thing, but something I’ve struggled with a lot in the past.
Built into Rainmaker are things that make creating sales pages super easy. Buttons, feature boxes, and my favorite – the pricing table.
You know when you get to a check out page and you see something that looks like this:
It took me a long time to figure out how to do that! Now there are quite a few plugins that do this, but to not have to mess with all of that and have it baked in is pretty cool.
This means you easily have control over the things you know will convert – or at least give you the tools to test to see if it will work!
WordPress itself doesn’t really do much to help podcasters.
As of the time of this writing, I don’t have a podcast, but I’ve been toying with the idea of starting one. Rainmaker is one of the most advanced platforms for publishing podcasts out there today.
It allows you to have one or more podcasts each with their own settings, iTunes info, show art etc. It also lets you track detailed metrics including where in your podcast people stop listening.
Generally speaking I dislike recurring services. I try and keep my lifestyle business as lean as possible, and thus I minimize my expenses wherever possible.
So the idea of having an annual fee on my primary service is a little bit off putting to me.
However, I think Rainmaker is worth it.
For the standard account its $950 a year. Which on the surface can seem like a lot of money, and if your business is relatively new, it is.
But it’s an investment worth making. I’m already paying about $500 a year just to host Location Rebel, so I remove that expense, and get solid support and enhanced services in the process.
Do you already have a site and want to transfer it? Oh, that’s free too. For people migrating from an additional service, basic transfer of content is free through Fantasktic.
In the end, despite a few hang ups I listed before – I truly believe that the Rainmaker Platform is the best membership site option out there for 90% of people. It makes everything so easy, and allows you to really focus on doing your products and launches right, as opposed to feeling limited by what you’ve got.
Most people launching their first site won’t have much of a funnel, probably won’t pay extra for split testing, and may not be doing anything with affiliates.
Rainmaker brings each of these powerful tools into a platform to give pros the tools they need to market effectively, and newbies access to tools they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
I love the plans for expansion, and I like how they integrate content tools like blogging and podcasting seamlessly into the marketing tools and platform.
To create a comparable system on your own will be expensive and full of road blocks and tech issues during setup and throughout the life of your site.
Having all of this for less than a grand a year is also extremely impressive. For me, that’s two sales of Location Rebel. I can guarantee for most people that with the extra tools you’re provided, you will easily make more than the cost of the platform back on an annual basis.
So if you’re looking to build a membership site soon – give it a shot. They have a free two week trial, so you should pretty quickly be able to tell if it’s right for you.
Check out the Rainmaker Platform for yourself. Have questions about Rainmaker? Send em’ my way, and I’ll do my best to answer them!