When you want a sales funnel, most marketers think of Clickfunnels. I know Russel, worked with him, and have much respect for what he’s done with it. This lesson should not undermine his work in any way.
In fact, Clickfunnels is probably the superior option in the funnel builder space when compared to say Kajabi, Kartra, or Groovefunnels.
Rather, if like me, you have concerns about control of your business and its assets, i intend to show you what i believe to be a better alternative.
In this lesson I will walk you through how you can easily and cheaply build your own funnel solution… A “Clickfunnels clone”, if you will…
… With ALL the functionality and simplicity
… With total data independence
… With more features and customisability to suit your specific business
… and all for a FRACTION of the cost.
To build our setup, we need to look at the key components of existing funnel builders as a benchmark for minimum requirements.
Funnel builder services are marketed as all-in-one solutions to all your online marketing needs. For a single monthly price, you get:
1. Visual Page Builder: A way to easily design and serve lead capture, sales, order, and upsell pages
2. Professional Templates: Ready-made, well designed templates you can modify and use so you’re not creating from scratch
3. Lead Management & Email Marketing: A way to capture non-buyer leads, build and store a mailing list of contacts, and send sales emails to them
4. Customer & Order Management: A way to setup products and prices, collect payments, store customers, manage refunds, and send transactional emails
5. Post Checkout Upsell Logic: A way to create a step-based sequence of offers after the initial purchase, which a customer can easily add to their purchase by clicking “yes” (this is the core of a “funnel builder”)
6. Membership Areas & Subscriptions: A way to protect and deliver intangible/digital products, complex training programs, and recurring billing products
This is an incredibly large set of really crucial features for most online businesses. Which explains why many companies are now investing into and selling funnel builder services–they’re lucrative!
Besides, once a funnel builder customer begins relying on a funnel service, it’s unlikely they ever want to leave. It’s just too painful.
At face value, it appears like the benefits of subscribing to a funnel builder service are:
(1) fewer accounts to manage,
(2) fewer recurring bills,
(3) and, simple and fast to get up and running.
The trouble is it just LOOKS this way.
In reality, you will pay a high monthly fee to effectively buy an interface with other services that do the real work… Services you will also be paying for.
Example: If you want to do email marketing in your funnel builder service, you might also need a separate subscription with Sendgrid or similar sending service. Then you will need to configure the two services to talk to each other.
Similarly, for transaction processing, you might need a merchant account and a processing gateway service. These are separate from your funnel builder service. You will need to configure the funnel service to talk to your gateway through its api.
So in many cases, you won’t have fewer bills or accounts to manage… Rather, you will have one more bill and one more account to manage (that of the funnel builder service). You’ll still need everything else.
Even if the funnel builder service has its own builtin services, you will usually pay extra for the privilege of using them, and they’re not very good. They lack key features otherwise available in dedicated solutions.
For instance, the email tracking in Clickfunnels is extremely limited compared to say Aweber or Mailchimp. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice having email marketing inside the funnel builder, but in practice it’s very hard to get any useful, actionable insights about a client’s email marketing efforts. This is to be expected. Funnel builders are trying to be and do everything–they can’t possibly compete in quality with a dedicated service that does just one thing really well.
But if we were to put aside these issues of multiple accounts, multiple bills, and limited functionality…
Having so much of your business in the hands of a single business entity is dangerous and just bad business all around.
It doesn’t take much to get locked out of your business completely.
Your entire business is held hostage.
And if you don’t get payment sorted out soon, your account, customer contacts, and all your business assets may be deleted.
So what am i proposing instead?
Simple. Use WordPress!
I’ve said it before and it seems boring by now but hear me out. WordPress drives some of the world’s biggest ecommerce websites. It has some really amazing free and premium plugins that add every functionality under the sun. Many WordPress plugins offer similar functionality as funnel builder services with better maintenance and support, and typically for a lower cost.
The quality of code has impressed me as i’ve looked closely inside many of the plugins mentioned in this email. Code quality is crucial when multiple developers interact with, improve, complement, or add to the software. And i think my choices and recommendations here represent a unique perspective on the plugins that you can consider to be “the BEST” for the job. Primarily because i’m a seasoned programmer who has seen under the hood of these plugins, and in many cases even contributed to their development with bug fixes and reports.
So let’s go through each of the core features of funnel services and see how you can reproduce each in your WordPress installation.
1. VISUAL PAGE BUILDER
Page builders have been around in WordPress for years and they’ve come a long way. Page builders break us away from the usual restrictive paradigm of a site’s THEME. They enable us to build pages that look exactly how we want.
You literally draw your page with configurable drag and drop blocks and require no coding whatsoever.
This is how you can create beautiful landing pages, sales letters, upsell pages, home pages, or whatever it is you like to present in your website.
There are many choices here and you might already have a preference. For the most part, you need not change your choice if you’re happy with it.
My page builder of choice is Elementor. It’s free. And i many cases is sufficient on its own.
There’s also a premium version, Elementor Pro, which costs $49 / year for a single site license. The yearly fee does not mean the plugin stops working if not renewed yearly, only that you may not continue to receive updates and support. If that’s ok with you, don’t renew.
If you plan to build landing pages with opt-in forms, you will definitely need the Pro version. Of course there’s lots of other features like popups, automation integrations, theme builder, and more that make the Pro version worthwhile.
For me, i choose Elementor because it is mature, well coded, well supported, and has a large ecosystem of addon plugins to give me extra functionality. I needed highly custom form actions and popup rules, which were a breeze to code myself. For you, you’ll appreciate the addon ecosystem most, which brings you additional functionality to do those more specific tasks you wish you had, which may not be handled out of the box.
Also, it has native responsive design support, beautiful animation control, countdown timers, and about 30+ widgets to make really cool pages.
Elementor integrates natively with the transaction, optin, email marketing, and upsell solutions I will discuss shortly. So you can build landing pages, hybrid pages, sales letters, custom order forms, and upsell pages with it and they will perform the proper function in your funnel.
Additionally, you can use it to build an ENTIRE custom theme for the rest of your site and blog posts, without touching a lick of code! It’s really cool. If you go this route, i suggest you install “Hello Elementor” theme which is a barebones base theme, which gives you a clean slate on which you can design your custom theme.
There are other page builders of course, many with the same or similar features.
Thrive Architect, divi, Beaver Builder, and Oxygen come to mind. All of these natively integrate with the checkout solution I’ll propose shortly, so if you use one of these (or one i didn’t mention), use it. My experience with other builders is limited and i cannot say for sure if all my suggestions will work with them, but i don’t see why not 🙂
If you do NOT have a page builder you already use, start with the Elementor (free), try it out, and if you’re happy with it and feel you need the Pro features, then get that next.
Get Elementor Pro ($49/yr) here
2. PROFESSIONAL TEMPLATES
You will find both Elementor and Elementor Pro have beautiful templates for every kind of page you might want on your site. Including order forms, optin pages, popups, hybrid landing pages, login forms, and so on.
I do not have experience with the other builders but my guess is they too have professional templates you can use.
You might not find the swipeable sleazy / pushy / hypey sales copy you’ve grown to love as an Internet marketer. But I believe we could do with a lot less of that in our world anyway. However, if you do want swipeable sales copy the Upsell flow solution I’ll discuss shortly gives you templates for all these things for a wide variety of page builders. Just be aware of the coverage in Part 4 of this series where i talked about the problem with the sales copy traditionally used in upsell page templates.
3. LEAD MANAGEMENT & EMAIL MARKETING
In Part 9 of this series, i discussed the recommended solution to do email marketing from within WordPress. Read through it if you missed it (you’ll find links to previous parts of the series at the bottom of this email).
My plugin of choice would be Mailpoet 3. It’s free.
Configure it with Sendgrid, Amazon SES, OR Mailpoet’s own sending service. All have free tiers and reasonable sending fees once the free tier limits are exceeded.
The Mailpoet plugin is natively compatible with Elementor Pro’s form builder. So you can create an opt-in form on any page or popup, and configure it to collect leads directly into one of your Mailpoet mailing lists and start emailing broadcasts or follow-up sequences.
It will also track revenue for you and tell you which emails are worth the most money to you 🙂
4. CUSTOMER & ORDER MANAGEMENT
Customer management, order management, product management, transaction processing is a complex bit of functionality and it is ALL provided in one plugin called Woocommerce.
Woocommerce is free. It is built by the same company that built WordPress. With it you can create and describe products that are tangible, intangible, physical, or electronic, set pricing, discounts, shipping, taxes, access, inventory, etc. It manages orders, product access or fulfilment, customers and customer accounts, refunds, tracking, analytics, transactional emails.
Out of the box, Woocommerce creates an ecommerce store within your WordPress website. Products are listed, described, and customers can fill their cart using an “add to cart” button. When done, they can continue to checkout to purchase all the products in their cart.
This is probably not desired behaviour for you.
And i’ll explain how to override the default behaviour so you can benefit from all the features of Woocommerce without turning your site into a wannabe Amazon.
But i HIGHLY recommend Woocommerce instead of any of the other checkout alternatives because it is really robust and boasts a huge ecosystem of addon plugins, many of which are free. It is highly customisable with these addons, and they enhance the functionality to do all kinds of useful things including running affiliate programs, membership sites, selling consulting hours or events, recurring subscriptions, and even transforming the whole checkout experience.
This is a crucial part of your business and it needs to be handled by a robust piece of tech that you can count on, which integrates with everything. Woocommerce is the industry standard, so anyone who wants to write a plugin that deals with WordPress and commerce must include integration with Woocommerce. Therefore, do not trust this part of your tech stack to ANY OTHER plugin, no matter what.
You can integrate with different payment solutions including PayPal, Stripe, and Google and Apple Pay, to name a few. Woocommerce even has their own native payment system which I have not yet tried but it looks really, really good. And i think most if not all payment integrations are free.
I personally use Woocommerce with Stripe for payment processing, it works natively when you install the appropriate free addon plugin.
If you want to sell online courses or subscriptions, I have more info on this shortly.
Explore Woocommerce addons here
5. POST CHECKOUT UPSELL LOGIC
As i said earlier, Woocommerce turns your site into an ecommerce store, which you probably don’t want.
Chances are, what you’re looking for in terms of customer experience, is to be able to build a sales page (using your visual page builder), and have a BUY NOW button on it. When clicked, the button should take the user to an order form where their details and payment info are requested. After which, you want to pitch a series of one-time-offers, which are immediately billed when the customer clicks to accept.
I’m with you there so don’t stress. Here’s the solution.
Install the Cartflows plugin. It’s free in the WP plugin repository.
Now I know this plugin on its own is missing some core functionality from what i described above, and I’m not entirely sure of the use case for just the free plugin although from their Facebook support community it looks like many people are just using the free version.
I use the Cartflows Pro premium plugin. It costs $299 per year, which seems steep at first. But keep in mind this is for the entire year, not a per month price. And it still works outside the year, just you won’t get later updates without an active subscription.
Here’s what these plugins do for you in combination with Woocommerce…
Cartflows and Cartflows Pro enable you to string together funnel page sequences the same way Clickfunnels does…
Use your favourite page builder inside WordPress to make lead capture pages, sales pages, conversion optimised order pages, upsell pages, downsell pages, and thank you pages. Then set the sequence in which these pages are displayed to users with Cartflows.
The checkout page in Cartflows has a two-step checkout mode which is fabulous. It also supports order bumps natively, which are small offer boxes on the checkout page for an impulse buy.
Cartflows comes with professional templates for all the funnel page types, compatible with a variety of page builders including Elementor Pro.
You can split test your funnels too, clone funnels, offer discounts or custom pricing, enable coupon codes and so on and on. Anything you can do in Clickfunnels you can do here.
In addition, i highly recommend you use their Cart Abandonment Recovery plugin. It is completely free. We discussed this in Part 2 of this series, review it if you need.
It helps you recover lost sales from people who began checkout and stopped partway. You can send a personal coupon code to give a small discount incentive that encourages customers to return and finish their order. I personally cannot imagine running a campaign without it, it saves so many sales!
Adam is really disciplined about releasing updates, bug fixes, and new features. The support community in Facebook is top notch. I highly recommend you join in and ask for help with anything you’re not sure how to do on your own. And if a feature you need is missing in Cartflows, ask for it there. They were pretty quick including a bit of functionality i needed which allowed more complex, nested funnel steps.
Get Cart Abandonment Recovery (free) here
6. MEMBERSHIP AREAS & SUBSCRIPTIONS
Out of the box, Woocommerce already enables protected electronic product delivery for one-time sales. But what happens if your product is a more complex training program with modules and downloadable content… Or If you need to deliver it as a membership area with a monthly subscription access?
In this case, I suggest you use the free plugin made, again, by the same people who made WordPress and Woocommerce, titled Sensei LMS.
Sensei LMS is free. It is an extremely mature piece of software that’s been in development a long time. And I’ve looked at a bunch of other learning management systems (LMS) in WordPress. Most are based on hacking together code stolen from Sensei LMS and Woocommerce to make some frankenstein slow mess. I would not bother with ANYTHING else.
Sensei LMS enables you to create training modules, lessons, and quizzes for your customers/students. It handles student enrollment and management. It has a decent ecosystem of addon plugins to enhance its functionality to do anything you can think of in the context of an LMS.
To be able to sell your Sensei LMS courses with Woocommerce, you will need another plugin. It is called Woocommerce Paid Courses. The cost is $129 / year. Again, remember this is a yearly fee, not monthly. The plugin does NOT stop working if you don’t renew after a year. It does NOT lock you out of your data. If you choose not to renew yearly, all that happens is you will not receive updates and bug fixes but the plugin will continue to work.
What Woocommerce Paid Courses does is protect courses you create in Sensei LMS from being accessed by people who have not paid for access. Without it, your courses are open to the public.
Optionally, if you want to sell your courses as a subscription with a recurring billing (eg, monthly), rather than a one-time purchase, you will need another plugin. It is called Woocommerce Subscriptions. The cost is $199 / year. It adds a new product type to Woocommerce’s product setup interface–Subscription Product.
Keep in mind, using Woocommerce Subscriptions is not limited to JUST Sensei LMS courses…You can combine it with ANY type of subscription product or service you want (eg, a community, a recurring services, retainers, recurring software licenses, autoship of physical goods).
You can offer trial periods or different pricing for setup vs renewal, you can fast forward subscriptions, and a whole host of other useful options.
The plugin will handle removing access for people who default on payments, it will perform dunning for failed transactions, it will send out reminders to customers to update expired payment methods, and so on and on. It integrates with Stripe and Woocommerce Paid Courses natively. It allows the use of coupon codes and discounts on the first payment or on all payments. Pretty much anything relating to recurring product billing is handled by this plugin. Looking at its code-base, i can tell you with absolute certainty it is worth EVERY cent.
This remarkable combination of WordPress plugins is how you can quickly make your own self-hosted Clickfunnels clone. Add up the cost of everything mentioned in this lesson, and the total is $676 / year. Keep in mind, you may not need everything here, nor do you have to renew yearly–but with these tools you will be able to create an unlimited number of funnels, pages, products, and customers. Even if you paid for licenses for just ONE year and did NOT renew a subsequent year’s subscription, you can STILL run your business uninterrupted, exactly the same way, without ANY limitation whatsoever.
All your data belongs to you.
Nobody can lock you out of your business.
Compare with Clickfunnels et al, and only for the sake of comparison…their SMALLEST plan ($97/mo) with limitations on number of funnels, domains, users, pages, and features costs $1,164 / year.
That’s nearly double the cost, year after year.
And if you stop paying for any reason your fault or not, your entire business is put on hold.
I don’t know about you, but the configuration i described above is a complete no brainer. I encourage all my clients to go this route. I do the setup for them and now I’m encouraging you to do the same.
One last tip if you do client work and have clients who rely on you for the “technical” website stuff… use a WordPress Multisite install and create a site for each client. You’ll only need to make the configuration once and it will clone nicely to ALL your clients. Then the cost is divided between them and you can include the site / funnel as part of your retainer fee.
Use your imagination 🙂
If you liked this email, you will appreciate the Super Traffic Machine which i wrote for you with a lot of love and care, to help you with EVERY step of creating an online business from scratch. Read more about it at the link below…
P.S. If you have missed previous messages in the series, check out the following:
- Part 1: The “Yaghi Way” of Traffic Generation
- Part 2: Sending Traffic Straight to the Sales Page of a D!CK PILL
- Part 3: Sell More With Amazing *Hybrid* Pages
- Part 4: Why “Funnel Templates” Cause Refunds & Support Nightmares
- Part 5: Making Google Apologise to You
- Part 6: User-Friendly Buying Pages
- Part 7: Watching Visitors
- Part 8: Fast, High Traffic, Unconventional Website Advice
- Part 9: Why I Don’t Do Email Marketing Like That
- Part 10: Your Professional Email Addy