Scaling an Online Business for Recurring Revenue: From Course to Membership

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As a nursing student struggling to keep up with her coursework, Nicole Whitworth discovered a passion for helping fellow students learn difficult concepts and develop effective study skills.

This launched her on an incredible 10-year-long journey – from tutoring classmates to building a thriving online membership site, YourNursingTutor.

How’d she pull it off while raising 6 kids?

In this episode, we’ll hear Nicole’s story of pivoting from an online course to a membership model and achieving recurring revenue.

Tune into episode 577 of The Side Hustle Show to learn:

  • How Nicole revived her business after a Google algorithm collapse
  • Pivoting from an online course to membership model
  • Creative tactics to attract audience and drive sales
  • How Nicole optimized her offers and funnel for maximum value
  • How TikTok helped Nicole gain 80K+ followers fast

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From Peer Tutor to Online Course Creator

Nicole’s entrepreneurial journey began in a familiar way: identifying a problem and creating a solution.

As a nursing student herself, she vividly remembers the stress and anxiety of tackling a grueling course load. The stakes are high when preparing for a career in saving lives. The academic rigor reflects that.

“Nursing students are highly, highly anxious. Just think about how [anxious] you are and multiply that by 10. And that’s getting closer to how most nursing and pre-nursing students feel when they’re approaching nursing school,” Nicole shared.

Many of Nicole’s peers were struggling to keep up despite their best efforts. So she stepped in to help, offering her classroom notes and study tips.

Word quickly spread that Nicole had a knack for breaking down difficult concepts in ways fellow students could understand. She soon took on a formal peer tutoring role at her college.

After graduating, Nicole assumed she would leave the teaching world behind. But something surprising happened.

Former students began reaching out and asking if Nicole could continue tutoring them for upcoming nursing exams and licensure tests. They were willing to pay for her services.

With a baby on the way, Nicole saw an opportunity to earn extra income while pregnant and during maternity leave. She leaned into her apparent superpower of making nursing concepts “click” and began tutoring students one-on-one online.

As requests continued rolling in, Nicole knew she needed a better solution than tutoring students individually.

The PASS Program

Nicole developed an 8-week online study skills course called “The PASS Program,” guiding nursing students on how to retain information and perform well on exams.

Nicole filmed video lessons, wrote study guides, and even met with students live online to provide support. She tested pricing anywhere from $49 to $200 for lifetime access to the course.

With a newborn baby in tow, Nicole launched YourNursingTutor and began selling the course online. It was immediately a hit with nursing students seeking guidance.

Nicole knew she was onto something big. While on maternity leave with her second child, she turned the live course content into an on-demand program that students could access at their own pace.

For years, Nicole kept running a successful side business helping nursing students. But storm clouds were gathering on the horizon.

An Overnight Loss of Traffic and Income

As many sites do, YourNursingTutor relied heavily on search engine traffic and Google rankings. One day, Nicole logged into her analytics and experienced an online entrepreneur’s worst nightmare.

Her traffic was gone.

Rankings tanked. Sales dried up. Overnight, her income stream was decimated.

What happened? Google’s mysterious algorithms had shifted, and YourNursingTutor got caught in the crossfire.

Nicole suspected her SEO practices hadn’t kept pace with Google’s demands. But with several young kids at home, she lacked time to rebuild from scratch.

She said, “I contacted some professionals right away thinking that something was broken on my site. Hoping it was just my Google Analytics script that was broken and not actually my traffic… But one person I trusted took one look at it and they were like, ‘Nope, nothing’s broken. I think you just got hit with this new Google update.’”

Hard as it was, Nicole tried to forge ahead:

“At that point, I was just…kind of devastated because I didn’t have a whole lot of time to redo it. And the fact that I had gotten to that point was a lot of luck anyway.”

With rankings demolished, Nicole attempted to salvage search traffic through SEO improvements. But lacking expertise, she struggled to recover lost ground.

Months turned into years of limping along at a fraction of her previous earnings. The business was alive but on life support. And Nicole had dreams of eventually doing it full-time.

She knew something had to change.

Reviving the Business By Switching to a Membership Model

After years in limbo following the Google update, Nicole and her husband made the decision to “go big or go home.”

Their goal was to turn the side hustle into a real, full-time business. But first, they needed to completely rethink their online strategy.

Rather than trying to resurrect the existing course model, they decided to move to a membership site instead.

Nicole knew from past customers that her greatest value wasn’t simply information – it was content, leadership, and community. A membership could provide that on an ongoing basis.

She already had course content to work from. And she possessed the nursing expertise to coach students. All Nicole lacked was the “community” piece of the puzzle.

So she put together a plan for a multi-pronged membership:

  • Existing Video Course: The core training content in written and video form
  • Live Group Coaching: A weekly live coaching call where Nicole would tutor members and answer their questions in real time
  • Private Forum: A members-only community for students to discuss concepts, share progress, and keep each other motivated

Growing Her Audience

Nicole had a huge email list from her prior business, so she got to work emailing about the new membership opportunity.

Her timing aligned perfectly with the influx of a new crop of nursing students. It turns out nursing is one of those unusual niches where people plan ahead. As Nicole explained:

“A lot of times, my audience of nursing students just doesn’t follow the typical rules…I find that people can sit on my list for like a year or two before they’re actually going to need [the training].”

Within the first month, Nicole signed up 10-12 founding members to beta test her program. It wasn’t huge, but it was real money in the bank. For a mom working from home, it felt like a windfall.

Inspired by initial success, Nicole invested in Flipped Lifestyle’s roundtable coaching (a 6-month course) to get structured coaching on growing a membership business. She calls it “one of the smartest things she ever did.”

Within 6 months, she grew her membership from around 10 members to over 100 paying members. Traffic and revenue were finally back on the upswing.

Now Nicole was ready to amplify her growth and get serious about generating leads.

Getting Creative with Lead Generation

Growing from 0 to 100 members was one thing. But scaling up further would require expanding her audience.

Nicole focused on three key strategies to attract nursing students and drive membership sales:

Facebook Groups

Nicole joined and participated in popular nursing student groups on Facebook. She contacted the group moderators personally, offering to share her free study resources whenever relevant to another member’s question. This allowed her to get traction and build trust before ever mentioning her paid program.

She also launched her own Facebook group, intentionally giving it a clear, keyword-rich name:

“I named the group ‘Nursing Students in Nursing School.’ So we had like all these keywords in there of what my target audience was really looking for.”

This group allowed Nicole to field questions, share tips, and gain consent from members to contact them directly via email or Messenger. She could then funnel them into her membership program.

Podcast Interviews

Next, Nicole started her own podcast and began reaching out to leaders in the nursing education space. She asked them for a quick 2-minute audio clip with their best study tips to include in her show.

Most were thrilled at the opportunity to share their knowledge and gain exposure. Nicole featured their clips and added her own commentary as the show host.

In return, these nursing experts promoted the episode to their own audiences, which generated traffic and new leads for Nicole’s membership site.

Weekly Webinars

Finally, Nicole held live weekly webinars, coaching her subscribers on study strategies for nursing students.

Each webinar attracted anywhere from 5 to 50 live attendees.

On average, 1-3 people purchase after each webinar, week after week. It added up fast.

Within 6 months, Nicole doubled her membership from 100 to 200 active members and revenue hit a new high.

But Nicole still lacked flexibility. She felt chained to her computer managing the community and creating content.

How TikTok Transformed Business Growth

Part of Nicole’s vision for her online business was flexibility and time freedom. But so far, she lacked both.

She turned her focus toward passive traffic channels that could attract leads without so much active effort on her part. One platform caught her eye – the popular short-form video app TikTok.

Could lip-syncing teens really be a source of leads for aspiring nurses? Nicole decided to test the waters.

She turned to TikTok, purchasing a $27 video training guide by a social media expert Brianna Puente to learn the platform’s basics. Then Nicole began posting short helpful videos for nursing students daily.

The early results blew her away:

“I started out on TikTok, and I just find it’s a really great platform. There’s still so much opportunity for organic reach. It’s by far the number one source of traffic and it’s quality traffic. It’s people who are nursing students and who want to work with me, a percentage of them.”

In two short weeks, Nicole gained over 1,000 followers with very little effort. Her videos were getting viewed thousands of times each.

The Hook, Content, Call-to-Action Formula

Nicole’s secret sauce on TikTok involved a few key ingredients:

  • Hook: Grabs attention in the first 3 seconds (critical on TikTok)
  • Content: Quick tip for nursing students
  • Call to Action: Invitation to follow her for more tips

This simple structure allowed her content to thrive in the TikTok algorithm.

Then the big moment came. Just weeks after joining TikTok, one of Nicole’s videos suddenly went viral.

It attracted hundreds of thousands of views and drove over 300 email opt-ins overnight from interested nursing students.

Nicole had discovered a game-changer for easily reaching her target audience. Today, her TikTok account has over 80,000 followers and counting. The platform continues delivering her a steady stream of new leads.

Optimizing Funnels and Offers for Maximum Revenue

With her business model now running smoothly, Nicole turned her focus toward maximizing revenue. This meant revamping her offers, pricing, and sales process.

Nicole studied proven funnel optimization strategies to put her business in the top tier of income potential. Some of her tweaks included:

  • Price testing: Nicole continually tests membership pricing, increasing from $27/mo to $49/mo to now $97/mo
  • Churn reduction: She aims to slash her high 30% membership cancellation rate to raise retention
  • New opt-in offers: Nicole removed free info products in favor of paid lead magnets
  • Higher ticket offers: Now sells $1000 lifetime access (payable over 12 months)
  • Direct-to-offer: Many new members now purchase directly from TikTok without entering her funnel

The results have been impressive. Despite having around 90 total members now, Nicole’s revenue has never been higher.

With optimization, her mature business now generates more with fewer members who pay more per month. Better retention also boosted recurring revenue.

Nicole continues to test and tweak every step of her process. The work of conversion rate optimization is never truly finished.

Leveraging Top Tools and Tech

Nicole shared a few of the helpful tech tools and services she relies on behind the scenes:

  • Kajabi – This all-in-one platform powers Nicole’s membership site, course delivery, and email marketing. Kajabi is the hub for her offerings.
  • WordPress – Nicole maintains a WordPress site for supplemental content and SEO, funneling traffic to Kajabi for conversions.
  • – This automation tool repurposes Nicole’s videos for other platforms like YouTube and Instagram. It saves editing time.
  • CapCut – Nicole uses CapCut to edit and polish her TikTok videos on mobile before uploading. The app streamlines her process.
  • Zoom – For live coaching calls, Nicole depends on Zoom. It allows face-to-face interaction at scale.

When evaluating new tools and tech, Nicole focuses on ones that will save time or open new opportunities. She avoids overcomplicating her systems.

The right technology stack lets Nicole handle the volume of content and community building while maintaining flexibility.

A Day in the Life of Nicole

Even after achieving success, Nicole works hard to keep growing her business. She batches similar tasks together to maximize focus.

She also relies on support from her husband to handle technical aspects she doesn’t enjoy.

Outsourcing is helpful, but Nicole still puts in consistent time daily. She balances business and family by staying organized.

Nicole stresses being flexible, testing assumptions, and learning as you go. She constantly experiments with pricing, offers, and marketing channels to find what works.

There’s no “one size fits all” formula that guarantees success. Nicole attributes her longevity to adaptability in the face of surprises.

What’s Next for Nicole?

Even after 10+ years online, Nicole remains as passionate as ever about serving nursing students and innovating in her business.

Right now, Nicole is focused on further diversifying her lead generation efforts. She already gets great traction from TikTok, but wants to add new streams to accelerate growth.

Additionally, Nicole hired an agency called Simple Pin Media to optimize YourNursingTutor for Pinterest traffic. The visual nature of Pinterest is ideal for the nursing study niche.

She is also diving into Instagram for the first time, following a training course to establish herself on the platform. Instagram presents new opportunities to reach nursing students with short video content.

Nicole plans to continue releasing helpful tips via TikTok, Instagram, and Pinterest. This raises awareness and drives membership sales from cold traffic.

At the same time, she is focused on reducing churn within her membership program. Nicole aims to cut cancellation rates in half through new lifetime access options.

Her goal by year’s end is to once again surpass 200 paid members. But at her new elevated pricing structure.

Nicole’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation

“Be inconsistently consistent.”

Links and Resources from this Episode

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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Financial Times, Bankrate, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, Bigger Pockets, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

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