[This post has been updated on 11-15-14]
I haven’t been this excited about a piece of software in FIVE YEARS. So excited that it’s making me use my caps lock. Yes. Rainmaker IS THAT GOOD.
If you don’t know what Rainmaker is, here’s the scoop: The team at Copyblogger Media (the folks who run one of the best blogs on the planet, and who have also launched a whole slew of amazing online courses, software, WordPress themes, and hosting services) have recently launched the first version of a new all-in-one app for online content marketers.
It’s built from the ground up to make it easy for you to build your own media platform, which allows you to implement a new approach to online marketing that Brian Clark, the founder and CEO of Copyblogger Media, calls “Media not Marketing.”
(Side note: Brian was the first teacher I learned from about online marketing and business building back in 2007, when I joined an amazing program called Teaching Sells that he launched with Tony Clark. That course was life changing for me.)
“Media Not Marketing” is a brilliant approach to growing a hugely successful business without having to engage in icky online marketing tactics. I highly recommend that you head over to newrainmaker.com and check out their free training materials.
You’ll hear Brian and his partner Robert Bruce lead you through this new approach to building a business. Seriously, guys. The New Rainmaker podcast is THE BOMB.
And guess what? The Rainmaker software platform allows you to easily implement all the strategies they talk about in the podcast. That’s amazing by itself, but it gets brilliant when you realize that they’re allowing you, as a listener, to see exactly how they’re using the Media Not Marketing approach to launch and sell the Rainmaker software platform itself.
In this post, I’m going to do an extensive review of Rainmaker…and I mean really extensive. I’ll give you my opinions on the good, the great, and the parts that could be better. And then I’ll make some recommendations about who Rainmaker is good for (and I’ll do my best to keep myself from shouting “EVERYONE!”).
But before I get too far here, let me give you a quick rundown of what Rainmaker is and what it allows you to do.
What will Rainmaker do for you?
Rainmaker is a turn-key website building app that is essentially a highly modified version of WordPress.
But that word “website” needs to be qualified a bit: you don’t just get a pretty WordPress site with a few clicks. You get that, but more importantly, you’re getting an entire platform to build a business on: A media platform that makes it easy for you publish content that can do the heavy lifting of your marketing efforts for you.
When you sign up for a Rainmaker account, you’ll instantly get a WordPress website set up in a matter of seconds. It’s hosted on their very solid, secure, and fast Synthesis webhosting servers (a popular service they’ve been offering for years.)
The site you get is built on their Genesis theme framework, and many of the available child themes for that WordPress framework are built right in to the Rainmaker platform.
That means that many of the themes from their StudioPress site are available for you to use for your site, and they’re all just one click away inside of Rainmaker.
You also get a site that has ecommerce functionality, membership site functionality, a free content library (to use for building your email list), opt-in/squeeze page/landing page/sales page creation, web form creation tools, integration with leading email marketing platforms, and the beginnings of a full affiliate marketing tracking system.
On top of that, you get access to a very large library of learning materials inside their Authority membership site. The amount of valuable, useful content inside this member area is staggering. No, it’s GOLD. Actually, it’s like drinking from a firehose. Okay, that’s one too many metaphors, but any way you look at it, the Authority membership content is amazingly helpful in building a successful business.
If you’re heading towards, or already have, an online business that publishes free content like blog posts, podcast episodes, video blogs, or even a full library of free downloadable pdf ebooks, and if all of those content marketing strategies are part of a marketing approach you’ve designed that leads to selling online courses of some kind, you should keep reading.
Rainmaker is the app I’ve been dreaming of building for the last 3 years. If you’re in the process of deciding on which combination of software to use to build your online business, and if you’re trying to decide between Infusionsoft and Customer Hub, or Infusionsoft and Kajabi, or WordPress/Aweber/Optimize Press/Member Mouse/BB Press, or Ontraport and WordPress…keep reading.
Rainmaker is WELL WORTH the time it will take for you to consider it as a solution for your needs.
You can spend a good chunk of money every month if you choose Infusionsoft or Ontraport as the foundation of your tech system (between $300 and $500 per month.) Or, you can spend A LOT of time duct taping together a crap-ton of apps to a self-hosted WordPress site.
That will cost less, but brings it’s own set of downsides, like the time it takes to build and manage it all, tying all those apps together, and in the end you’ll eventually have a Frankenstein system that has a lot of functionality, but not as much tight integration (and thus possibilities for automation) as you’ll eventually want as your business grows.
Rainmaker hits the bullseye right in between the more expensive all-in-one apps (e.g., Infusionsoft, Ontraport, Hub Spot) and the less expensive duct tape Frankenstien systems (e.g., WordPress tied to Mailchimp [email marketing] and Optimize Press [opt in pages, landing pages, launch funnels, sales pages] and Member Mouse [membership site and ecommerce processing] and BB Press [forums for your membership area.])
Now, keep in mind that Rainmaker is new. It just came out of beta a few weeks ago, as of the date of publishing this post.
It’s already mind blowingly amazing, but it does have it’s limitations. That’s true of ANY app, anywhere, but this needs to be on the table as you’re considering all the options available to you.
I’ll get to the details of it’s limitations in a bit. Don’t worry. With any app you choose, the game is ALWAYS a game of weighing the pros and cons, because there are always cons…always downsides.
Rainmaker isn’t immune to this law of the software universe, but in my opinion, the pros already outweigh the cons, and it was just released a few weeks ago.
About a week ago, I had the chance to meet 7 of the people on the Rainmaker team at a mind expanding, reality shifting content marketing conference that the Copyblogger team just held in Denver, called Authority Intensive.
Everyone I met and talked to on the Rainmaker team were extremely friendly, knowledgeable, sharp, and on their game.
I can see where they are going with this app, and the roadmap they’ve laid out is beautiful.
Put all of those things together and that’s why I migrated my entire business onto the Rainmaker platform. Oh yes. I just said that.
Open Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post
Okay, now, before I get into the nitty gritty here, let me get something out of the way: I’m not hiding the fact that I’m a huge fan of the entire Copyblogger team (Brian, Sonia, Robert, Jerod, Demian and all the rest of those stellar humans.)
I love them hard: their content, services, software, ethics, conferences, customer support, and general approach to doing business.
I’ve been evangelizing their content and services for years, but I haven’t made any money as a result of doing this, meaning, I haven’t been gushing on them because I make a lot of money from using an affiliate link when I promote their stuff.
I’ve made a grand total of $0 promoting their content, training, and services to my community and clients and customers.
I have recently become an affiliate for Rainmaker (as of August 2014) primarily because I love the platform, and you know, I’m getting older and more tired, which means I need more mochas to fuel my work in the world, and earning a few dollars from people signing up for Rainmaker via my affiliate link could help with the mocha fund, which is nice.
So, the links to Rainmaker in this post and elsewhere on my site are affiliate links. If you click on them and decide to sign up for Rainmaker, I’ll make a small commission. That commission, however, is not the primary motivation for this post. Not by a long shot. I wrote this post two months before I had an affiliate account.
So, you don’t have to silently wonder as you’re reading this “Is Forest gushing so hard on Rainmaker because he wants to make affiliate sale revenue?” That’s not why I’m gushing. Rainmaker is honestly the best app for online marketers that I’ve seen…ever. It may not be perfect for everyone right now, but my recommendation, whether you choose to check it out now or not, is to keep it on your radar.
Yes, making a little money from affiliate commissions is nice, but it’s not my main motivation here.
Get on their email list. Go through the New Rainmaker free training. Watch what they do. Learn from them. See where they take Rainmaker.
I have a feeling that in a very short time frame, Rainmaker is going to be THE best answer for a large percentage of the people who are looking to create a very successful business online that publishes useful, free multimedia content and sells things like online courses, home study programs, membership sites, and downloadable digital products.
Okay. Stick with me. This is going to be
one of my longer posts the longest post I’ve ever written, but hopefully this will save you a ton of time.
Let’s recap quickly:
1) Rainmaker is not the best thing since sliced bread. It’s the best thing since chocolate. And chocolate is WAY better than sliced bread. Any day.
2) There are affiliate links in this post, but I’m not man-crushing on Rainmaker in order to make commissions.
Cool. You and I are now on the same page. And…you’re still reading! Amazing. Thank you. Who says people don’t read on the web anymore?! You’re reading this, which makes you either an anomaly in the space-time continuum or a really cool person. I’m betting its the later.
Okay, let’s get into the gritty details of Rainmaker. What it does, what it doesn’t do, what it looks like, what it costs, and how it compares to other options you’re probably considering.
Rainmaker: A visual tour.
First, a quick tour of the user interface of Rainmaker. I’m not going to show you every nook and cranny, but the main thing you should take away from these snapshots is this: They have completely overhauled the user interface, and even the very fabric of the user experience, of WordPress…and the results are absolutely beautiful.
Once you see and use Rainmaker, you’ll probably feel similar to most of us that have tried it: THIS is how WordPress should have been designed.
Okay, here we go. Below is the dashboard of the admin side of a Rainmaker site.
The graphs and charts and stats on this dashboard are, holy shit!, ACTUALLY REALLY USEFUL. Unlike what usually appears on the dashboard of a WordPress site, which I have grown accustomed to ignoring (don’t get mad at me, WordPress. I love you. We’ve been through a lot together, but Rainmaker just made you better than a chocolate chip pancake topped with maple syrup and whipped creme.)
The main navigation of WordPress has been totally reworked in Rainmaker. Here’s the new structure of how they’ve organized things in the platform:
In the Design area, here’s what you’ll see. This is where you manage all the bits about the design of your site, like the theme, menus, and widgets (called “content areas” in Rainmaker).
Below are the StudioPress themes that are available from right within your Rainmaker site. Let me highlight that this is HUGE. You have a whole set of premium WordPress themes at your fingertips, ready to use for your site design as a starting point for you to customize, and all you need to do is click once to select any of them.
Currently, not all of the Studiopress themes are available in the Rainmaker theme gallery, but I suspect the rest will arrive as options in the near future, with new themes being added regularly after that.
And here’s the built in theme editor, which allows you to make a bunch of customization changes to your theme without touching a bit of html, php, or css code. The coolest part about the theme editor? It shows real-time changes on the right side of the page, where you can see what the changes look like on the front of the site.
There’s a couple other things I want to point out on this page before I move on…things that are not normally in a plain, self-hosted wordpress site.
First, the built in Web Form creator, which allows you to create really nice looking web forms for things like a contact form that people can use to send you an message right on your site:
And here’s an example of what a web form looks like on the front of a site:
Second, the Social Sharing button generator. This allows you to get very clean looking, easy-to-use, social sharing buttons above or below any content you publish on your site, like a blog post or podcast episode.
What’s amazing about this, which is the same for so many other features of Rainmaker, is that if you have a plain, self-hosted WordPress site, in order to get things like web forms and social share buttons on your site, you need to shop for, compare, decide, install, and learn to use plugins for WordPress. One plugin for web forms, another for social sharing icons. Another for publishing podcasts, and so on.
Rainmaker removes that hassle and bakes that functionality right into the platform. If you use Rainmaker, it will have just saved you 30 hours of your time that you can now spend on doing things that will grow your business. You can hug your Rainmaker now. It’s okay. I won’t tell anyone.
Alright. Moving right along. Let’s go into the Content area.
This is where you’ll create posts and pages, and other versions of content you’ll want to publish on your site.
The Posts, Pages, and Media areas will be familiar to you if you’re familiar with plain WordPress.
There are some things in the sidebars that are new, but they’re a bit too detailed to get into at the moment.
What I do want to highlight in this area though? Landing Pages, Podcasts, and Forums.
Again, the recurring theme you’ll see when using Rainmaker: massive sets of features and functionality have been built right into the platform, which means you don’t have to spend weeks shopping around for the best options to create things like landing pages, opt-in pages, podcasts, or forums.
The Landing Pages area is where you can create squeeze pages or opt-in pages, similar to the core functionality of Optimize Press or Lead Pages.
Here’s a screenshot of the landing page template options currently available:
And here’s a shot of the landing page creation/editing area:
And here’s what one looks like on the front of the site. Hello, beautiful:
If you’re going to create and sell some kind of online course, you’ll probably want to create a discussion forum for your members to ask questions or connect with each other.
Forum functionality is built right in to Rainmaker, using one of the best forum plugins for WordPress: BB Press.
Here’s the forum creation area on the admin side of the site:
And here’s a forum on the front, as a member of your program would see it:
On to the Conversion area.
ALL of this functionality is NOT in a plain WordPress site.
The Conversion Assistant helps you setup the content and workflow necessary to sell an ebook or an entire library of ebooks or other downloadable files. This is not only novel, it’s awesome. More on why it’s awesome in a bit.
The Products area. Create products to sell on your site, like ebooks, online courses, or even free products to use as lead magnets.
When people buy any of your products, they can be added to a list inside your Mailchimp or Aweber account (currently, Rainmaker integrates only with Mailchimp or Aweber for email marketing. Eventually, it will integrate with more and more email marketing apps, and will also have it’s own email marketing functionality built right in.)
Coupons. This is where you can create discounted promo codes for your products, and also where you go to create unique links for affiliates to use to promote your products and get credited for sales.
The Orders section shows you a list of all the orders, or sales, that have happened through your site.
Member Groups are where you create different membership groups, or levels, for your various online programs.
Creating groups are how you protect different posts, pages, whole sections of content, or forums, on your site. People who are tagged with certain membership group tags are allowed to see certain content.
The Download Manager is where you upload and manage the digital files you’ll be selling, or offering for free (in the case of content that’s designed to be a lead magnet or email list builder.)
The Results section. Ohhhh, the Results section. Stats and info that actually matter. Tie your Google Analytic account to your Rainmaker site and you’ll get the essential traffic data you need right in your Rainmaker site, without the 98% of Google Analytics that you will never use cluttering up this interface in Rainmaker.
And here’s the Analytics info, showing just the first Summary tab of data. This area is so useful and beautiful that I want to eat it:
Web Forms. This is where you can see results on all of the submissions from any web form you’ve built in Rainmaker and put on your site.
Conversion Reports. Finally. The conversion and sales data you’ll need to keep an eye on to tune your business system. I can’t tell you how hard and costly and infuriating it is to try and get data like this in Infusionsoft.
In Rainmaker, this data is just right here. A couple of clicks. Information that is exactly what you need to see. No more manually creating big ass spreadsheets in Google Docs, laboriously copying and pasting and typing in numbers from your ecommerce app to get the data you need to see in order to see what’s working and what’s not.
Lastly, in the navigation menu, the Education area leads you to the Authority membership site, which is FULL of an outrageous amount of useful learning materials that can take your business from zero to hero. Crap…that sounds like a freaking commercial. Sorry.
It’s just that I’m literally blown away by not only the quality and quantity of education materials available to you as a Rainmaker user, but also the fact that it’s just one click away from RIGHT INSIDE THE APP.
They don’t just give you a beautiful, powerful tool to create a platform for your business. They keep going and give you the knowledge you need to make the best use of the Rainmaker software.
That’s just plain brilliant. (I’m running out of positive adjectives for Rainmaker.)
To finish up this tour, here’s a quick shot of the front of my test site. I’ve customized a bit of the text in the theme I chose, but that’s about it so far. It’s just this beautiful out of the box with the sample content loaded in:
Alright, that’s it for the tour. Let’s move on to the pros and cons of Rainmaker.
I’ve already named a number of positive things about Rainmaker above, but here are the rest of the positive things about it, at least in my opinion.
1) The user interface is beautiful. This is one of the best looking user interfaces of any apps I’ve used, ever. I used to think that the plain WordPress interface was nice looking, but the Rainmaker interface makes plain WordPress look downright ugly.
2) Amazing set up process. Setting up a new site is very clear and well thought out. You are guided through an easy, step-by-step setup process that doesn’t take too long.
3) Super clear guided text based tutorial tour when you first arrive in the Rainmaker admin area for the first time. The guided tour is great, takes only about 10 minutes, and makes things very clear in terms of where to go to get things done.
4) All the theme options are responsive and mobile ready. This is a big one. Having every single available theme option already be mobile read is a huge benefit.
All the themes you can choose from within Rainmaker use HTML5 and responsive CSS, which means that when people view your site on a phone or tablet, it will dynamically reorganize its elements to present a version of your site that’s easy to navigate on small screens that you need to touch with your fingers.
Many statistics I’ve seen lately say that somewhere around 50% of your site visitors will be viewing your site on small mobile screens, and these days, people are coming to expect that a site will be presented in a way that will be easy to navigate on small screens. That means that the navigation buttons become very large, and content is laid out differently on small screens.
If your site isn’t responsive, people will have to pinch and zoom and pan around to navigate your site, and many of them just won’t do that. This means that if your site isn’t mobile responsive, you’ll be losing a lot of opportunities to gain new traffic, new people on your email list, and new followers in your audience.
Having a mobile responsive site is vital, and with Rainmaker, you don’t even need to think about it. Every theme you can choose from is already mobile responsive.
In addition to using responsive CSS and HTML5, Rainmaker also has the schema.org structure built right in.
Schema.org allows you to create rich snippets of information that will appear in search results, which will help you place better in search results and make your site’s search snippet more interesting and appealing to click on. For more about why schema.org is important, click here.
5) You can control what widgets appear on what specific pages without having to install a plugin. In order to have control over what sidebar content appears on what specific pages in plain WordPress, you need to install a plugin, like Custom Sidebars. No need to do that in Rainmaker, as that option is baked right in.
6) The feeling of using Rainmaker is that it’s easy to use. Very easy. This is a little hard to explain, as I’m pointing out a first-person experience that I have when using Rainmaker. You have to spend some time using it to see what I mean. It just feels easy to use. Things just make sense to me when I navigate around to get work done in building a site.
7) Theme customization settings and custom CSS editor to customize your theme. There are a good handful of things you can customize about your theme’s design using a number of settings in the Appearance editor. This area isn’t as fully fleshed out as, say, the Squarespace theme editor, but it’s very similar.
This editing area shows a live preview and instantly shows your changes to the design. This greatly cuts down on the amount of flipping back and forth from one tab to another to check to see how your changes look on the front of your site.
If you know CSS and want to do further customization of your theme, there’s an area for you to enter your custom CSS code. This is great to have for those of us who like to get in and customize the layout and design of our themes at a code level.
8) Web form creator is built right into the app. No need to find a good plugin to create good looking contact forms. With plain WordPress, in order to get good looking web forms built for your site, such as the one you’d have on a Contact Us page, you need to install a plugin, like Gravity Forms.
With Rainmaker, there’s a web form builder built right in, and it uses the CSS styles of your theme to create web forms that look like they were designed to fit right in with the rest of your site.
You can also set any web form to appear at the bottom of any blog post, which will be useful for building your list with a free offer that folks opt-in for, once you can have a user added to your email list after they submit a Rainmaker web form (adding a user to one of your email lists after they submit a Rainmaker web form is currently not an option though. More on this below in the “cons” section.)
9) Offline maintenance mode page built in. When you want to take your site offline to do some major work on it that you don’t want anyone to see, Rainmaker gives you the option to easily flip a switch and set your site to offline mode, which puts up a message letting visitors know that your site is offline for maintenance.
In order to accomplish this trick with regular WordPress, you’d need to find and install a plugin.
10) Podcast publishing and feed tool built right in. This is crazy cool. Rainmaker makes it super easy for you to upload podcast recordings (this means they host your podcast recordings too), embed them on pages of your site, and also creates your podcast feed that you’ll need to publish to the itunes podcast directory (or any other podcast hosting service.)
11) One click option to install sample content and widgets. Having this greatly speeds up the process of setting up a theme. What it does is install all kinds of sample content, such as homepage content in several content areas (which in regular WordPress are known as “widgetized areas”), static pages, blog pages, sidebars, and even a free content library with member’s only permission access set up (you can use a content library as an incredibly effective lead generation/list building strategy. For a great example of a free content library, go to copyblogger.com and sign up for the My Copyblogger library. It’s currently right at the top of their homepage.)
12) You can drag and drop boxes in the UI of the admin area to your liking. This is pretty amazing. You can change the organization of some of the boxes in the user interface to suit your desires and workflows.
13) Adding a favicon is super easy. Favicons are the little mini icons that appear in the tabs of browsers, next to the page title. In many themes for WordPress, you need to upload your small 16 x 16 px favicon image to your server using FTP software. No need for that in Rainmaker, because there’s a straightforward area to upload your favicon image.
14) Landing page builder is built right into the site. To get good looking opt in pages, or landing pages, for list building and marketing purposes, you most often need to install a big plugin like Optimize Press, or use a third party app like Lead Pages or Unbounce.
Having this functionality built right in to Rainmaker is amazing. There’s currently 6 or 7 beautiful landing page templates to choose from, and they’ll be adding more in the near future.
The landing page features are not as fleshed out as Optimize Press or Lead Pages, and the templates are going to look different than the theme you choose for your site, but the basics are definitely there to build beautiful opt-in and landing pages.
15) SEO keyword research and optimization tools built right into the page editing area. The Rainmaker team has taken their very successful Scribe software and built it right in to Rainmaker.
Scribe analyzes your page and post content and helps you optimize it for your targeted keywords.
It helps you do keyword research, tweak your content for optimization, and it also helps you create internal links to other pages and posts on your site, which can have a big impact on your SEO work. Having this kind of tool right in the page editing area is crazy useful.
You can learn more about Scribe’s features here (and keep in mind that those features are built right into Rainmaker.)
16) Protected membership access built right into every page in the sidebar of the editing area. Protecting any page or post or forum on your site is very easy in Rainmaker.
You simply set up membership groups and then for any given page you want to protect, you check a box next to the group of members, or multiple groups, who you want to be able to access that page.
These settings are available right in the sidebar of any page or post’s editing area, and it forms the foundation of how you create free and paid membership areas on your site for courses or programs or products you’re selling (or giving away for free.)
17) Ability to add a web form after the content on a page by page basis is built right in. Again, there’s no need to install a plugin like Magic Action Box to get optin forms at the bottom of pages or posts. It’s built right in to Rainmaker.
Often, online marketers will have some kind of free offer, or free content, like an ebook or email course, that they want to encourage people to sign up for so that they can build their email list of qualified, interested potential customers.
One method that many people use to increase the number of opt ins for their free offers is to put a simple web form at the bottom of every blog post with an image of the product, a little bit of copy, a couple fields for a person’s name and email address, and a “Get it now” button.
In order to do that with a regular WordPress site, you need to find and install a plugin that allows you to do this, or manually paste in the code for your web form at the bottom of every post (which is a major pain).
Rainmaker builds this functionality right in to it’s structure.
18) Advanced seo settings and other tools built right in to the editing area of every page. There’s even an easy to access 301 redirect field, to create a custom url for a page that you want to redirect people to instead of the old url for a given page.
19 ) You can set the Facebook and Google+ meta data with ease. This means you can set the Facebook description, image, and Google+ image and description, that will be pulled from your site when someone links to the page you’re editing. Amazing.
This is called “setting your meta tags” for Facebook and Google+, and it most often requires opening up code files on your server and adding several lines of code in the right place, so that when someone links to your site, or a given page, the exact site name, post/page title, and image that you want to have appear in someone’s Facebook or Google+ post will appear.
If you don’t like using FTP software to access the files of your website and adding large blocks of code for things like this, setting your meta tags can be a big pain. Not with Rainmaker though.
Are you seeing the pattern here? I know I sound a bit repetitive, but in so many ways, you can see that the Rainmaker team has really thought things through and removed a huge amount of the hassle and time it takes to get many of the basic kinds of functionality you’ll need your site to have.
The Rainmaker team seems to have this overarching goal to just remove a crap-ton of the wasted time it can take to get important things done when it comes to certain pieces of functionality that your site should have.
You’ll see this again and again as you use Rainmaker, and I think it’s brilliant.
20) You can turn comments off and on for any given blog post or podcast. That’s not easy to do with out of the box wordpress.
21) Creating a podcast page with an audio player and metadata is amazingly simple. No third party plugins needed to create beautiful podcast pages with mp3 players.
22) BB press forums are built right in. No need to install a plugin to create amazing forums for your program or course members.
And, it’s super easy to create specific access to certain discussion boards in your forum so that some members can see some discussion boards, but not others.
That may seem like a simple thing, but it’s not easy to accomplish, at all, with most other existing solutions for membership site software.
23) You can manage forum post and replies from the admin side. This is another great thing. Most often with forum plugins, you have to moderate the forum posts and replies from the front of the site, logged into the forum as an admin.
I’ve always found this to be clunky and annoying to have to login to the front of the site just to manage and moderate a forum. Finally, with Rainmaker and BB Press, you can do these things from the admin side of your site.
24) You can create products for sale right in the app. No need to tie another ecommerce app to your wordpress site to sell products, whether they’re free or for sale.
25) You can select what list people should be put on in your Aweber or Mailchimp account after they purchase a product. This allows you to target specific emails just to people who have purchased specific products on your site.
This can come in handy when you want to send out certain emails just to members of one specific program or course you’ve sold, such as emails announcing that the next learning module has been published.
26) There are built-in conversion assistant wizards to help you set up the workflow needed to deliver paid ebooks or an entire free content library, just like my.copyblogger.com, which is a huge free content lead generation magnet.
The team at Copyblogger has found, through testing, that creating a free content library with multiple ebooks in it, and that people simply register to gain access to, has grown their list much, much more (400% more, to be exact) than just offering something free, like a 30 day course delivered via email.
The main difference between the two methods is that with the free email course, you’re using a traditional opt-in process: people give you their name and email address to get the thing that you’re offering for free. That can work well, but not as well as offering an entire library of content that you simply register to gain access to.
It’s a slight difference between opting-in to get a free thing delivered to you and registering to gain access to a library, but it seems to make a huge difference.
Rainmaker comes with a content library structure already set up for you. All you need to do is add in your own content into the library area.
To see a case study on Copyblogger’s testing around this, read this post on Marketing Sherpa.
27) Very intuitive user interface. I’ve been able to figure out how to use most of the app without looking at any of their tutorials on how to use it. That is almost unheard of in my opinion. That’s a sign that they’ve really put a ton of thought into making the user interface easy to understand, and truly intuitive.
To be fair, I’m very familiar with WordPress, and there are many things that are somewhat similar to the regular version of WordPress in Rainmaker. Still, the Rainmaker platform is MUCH easier to use than plain WordPress, in my opinion.
28) The social media share buttons that are built right into the app are amazing. It is so freaking easy to create great looking social media share buttons, with counters, that will appear above or below your post or page content, without needing to hunt for the best social media sharing button plugin to install.
This is so refreshing, as most of the social media share button plugins I’ve used end up being quite buggy and unreliable.
29) Built in landing page/opt-in page and sales page creation is built into the app. Super easy to create great looking landing pages and sales pages. What’s missing from this part of Rainmaker is the ability to create full product launch funnels with an optin gate checker. (An optin gate checker checks to see if someone has already opted in to see your free series of content, the content that makes up your pre-launch content. If they have already opted in, they’re sent right along to the next piece of free content in your series, once you release it. If they haven’t opted-in yet, they’re presented with an opt-in page and after they opt-in, they gain access to all the content you’ve released in your launch funnel.)
There’s a handful of great looking landing page, or squeeze page, themes already available in the landing page builder. Currently there’s 7 of them, with more on the way.
30) Great data on the dashboard of the admin side of a Rainmaker site. Once you get google analytics hooked up to your rainmaker site, and once you enable a payment gateway and run through some test products, the dashboard starts to come alive. It’s got some great data and charts on it.
31) The presentation of google analytics data in the Results section is clean and clear. As I mentioned above, I actually like it better than the actual Google Analytics interface, which has too many options for most people.
The Rainmaker version of the GA data just seems to show the vital stats, which is all you really need to see, on a handful of tabs.
32) Order forms for products are beautiful. This is not always the case with ecommerce software that creates order forms for your products, so it’s nice to see well designed order forms. (Order forms are where a customer enters in their name, address, and credit card information during the purchase process.)
33) You don’t have to worry about keeping WordPress, and all of the plugins you’ve installed, up-to-date. Rainmaker is fully managed for you. This is a major headache removed. Not keeping your core WordPress files and plugins up-to-date, always, is the number one way that hackers find security vulnerabilities in websites. But you won’t need to worry about that with Rainmaker. Everything will always be up-to-date.
34) The server site security of the hosting environment for your Rainmaker site is some of the best I have ever seen. There’s another set of things that you don’t have to worry about with the security and safety of your site. To learn more about the benefits of having your site hosted on Synthesis (which, again, is where Rainmaker sites are hosted), head on over here.
35) Granular, scheduled content dripping is easy to set up. If you’re selling access to an online program that moves a group of people through the content of the program at the same pace, you’ll likely want to drip out the content of the program on a set schedule, so as to not overwhelm people in the program with too much information too soon.
This is easy to set up in Rainmaker, using shortcodes that allow you to set a display timer for any given page of member content in your program.
36) Rainmaker is affordable. I’m not sure how long this is going to last, but for a very short time right now, as they are rolling out Rainmaker to the first groups of users, they are offering it for $95/mo…forever, no matter how many new features they add.
You’d be getting the full “advanced” Rainmaker version for that price, for the life of your account, for $95/mo. That’s insane. I pay about $450 a month for software that does about the same things that Rainmaker does.
Once they raise that price, which they’ll be doing soon, I’ve heard Brian say in a podcast about Rainmaker that it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $200/mo, and though he didn’t specify, I’m assuming that he’s referring to the “advanced” option of Rainmaker. The “basic” version will likely be less.
37) Their customer support is amazeballs. I’ve always felt like an app is only as good as it’s customer support is. Poor support can wreck even the best app. Fortunately, the Rainmaker team knows how to take care of people, and in my book, that’s one of the most important things to get right when it comes to selling software as a service.
38) It’s easy to add an optin form for people to subscribe to your free offer or blog post updates, under every single blog post in one set up process. If the theme you choose for your site has an “after content” widget area, or content area, as they’re called in Rainmaker, you can drag a Genesis eNews Extended widget into that “after content” widget/content area and set it up to be tied to one of your lists in either Mailchimp or Aweber.
This can help increase the rate at which your email list grows by having an optin form at the bottom of every post.
The downside is that you’ll need to do some manual work to grab just the right parts of the raw HTML of the web form embed code that you’ll need to get from either Aweber or Mailchimp’s web form creator. They don’t have a tutorial on how to do this in the knowledge base for Rainmaker yet, but here’s a tutorial about using this widget on their Genesis site.
They may be updating this widget soon to make it easier to use though.
You can use this same widget in a sidebar content area, but currently, the layout of the name, email address field, and the submit button don’t work in a narrow sidebar position. The submit button covers up most of the email address field, making it unusable.
It’s not fixable with custom CSS alone, and you won’t have access to the file you’d need to have access to in order to change the php and html that you’d need to change in order to fix this.
It’s close, but not quite useable in the sidebar yet. It is useable underneath the blog post content though, which is great.
39) Affiliate sale system built in. If you’re planning on having affiliates or joint venture partners help you get the word out about your products or programs (and make a commission for making sales for you), everything you need to do that is built in to Rainmaker.
It’s affiliate system doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that say, Infusionsoft’s affiliate system has, but Rainmaker’s affiliate tracking is solid and all the basics that you’ll need are there.
40) Great knowledge base. The situation with software companies and their instructions on how to use their software has been slowly improving over the last 3 years, but it’s still common to see the knoweldge base of nice looking apps be almost completely useless to new users trying to figure out how to use the software.
Luckily, this is not the case with Rainmaker. Their knowledge base continues to get better and better with each passing week. There are plenty of guides and tutorials in their knowledge base, and they’re all easy to understand. This is still a rare thing to see in the software world.
Alright, let’s move into the downsides of Rainmaker and flesh out the reality of the whole picture here.
Obviously, I’m already a big fan of Rainmaker, but it’s not all unicorns and rainbows…at least not yet.
Every app, or combination of apps, that you might decide on to build a system for your online business will have downsides. Every single one. There is no ideal solution out there for everyone’s needs. That’s just the nature of software.
If there are no ideal, perfect solutions for everyone, the game becomes a game of weighing the pros and cons for your particular set of needs.
I have a strong intuition that Rainmaker will soon become the winner of this game for most people looking to build an online business that sells training or teaching in some form of online program, but right now, it’s brand spankin’ new. Just got out of beta a few weeks ago, as of the date of this post.
There are more features and improvements coming for Rainmaker in the near future. I’ll get to those in a bit, but the main thing to take away from the list of cons below is that Rainmaker does have limitations. In many cases, you’ll end up having more freedom from those limitations in the long haul, though that may not be immediately apparent at first glance.
In other cases, there are just limitations…things that Rainmaker can’t do yet that some of you will likely want, or need, it to do. If you find yourself feeling that, and if you come across something below that’s a deal breaker for you right now, do yourself a favor and keep Rainmaker on your radar over the coming months and years.
I’ve spoken with many people on the Rainmaker team and I have a good sense of where they’re heading with the app, so you may find that in the not-to-distant future, Rainmaker will do almost everything you want a software platform for your business to do.
That said, let’s get to the list of things that are currently not so great about Rainmaker.
1) You can’t install other WordPress plugins. This means that if you want to add other functionality to your site that isn’t currently available in Rainmaker, you’ll have to wait for the Rainmaker team to build in other functionality.
Remember though, there’s freedom in limitation. Rainmaker is fully hosted and managed. Remember the bit above about not needing to worry about keeping your site and all it’s plugins up-to-date so that hackers can’t find a security hole and exploit it?
Well, that’s the freedom that comes from the limitation of not being able to install any plugin you want to.
Aweber and Mailchimp and Infusionsoft are all solid options for email marketing, but if you’re using something else currently, like Get Response, Ontraport, or Mad Mimi, you currently won’t be able to integrate Rainmaker with your existing email marketing software, which means you’ll have to migrate your list to another email marketing app.
3) You’ll need to use the available child themes in the theme gallery from within the app, or have a custom theme built. If you want a custom theme, it would need to be built on the Genesis framework and imported into Rainmaker. This means you can’t import, or use, your current site design unless it’s been built on Genesis platform. That can be done, but it would cost a good bit of money to hire someone to do that, if you don’t know how to build a WordPress theme on the Genesis framework. This also means that you can’t buy a theme from another WordPress theme provider and use it for your Rainmaker site.
4) There’s no “My Account” self service area for customers to update their billing info. Until there is one, this will generate a good amount of customer support tickets. You’ll likely also get a lot of phone calls from customers delivering their new credit card information over the phone (because they don’t trust emailing it), as a result of people’s credit cards failing and needing to be updated for subscription plans.
If you offer payment plans, or subscription plans, for any of your products, it is inevitable that people’s credit cards will be declined for any number of reasons. People need to be able to update their own billing information (e.g., change their billing address, add a new card) on their own, over a secure internet connection that encrypts all of their sensitive billing information.
Currently, there is no way to send people to a My Account area where they could do that, which means that people will want to call you on the phone and give you their updated info. It’s the only way that most people feel safe about giving their billing info to you if they don’t have a secure web page to do it themselves.
Handling that kind of billing information update process over the phone is very time intensive.
5) The default font size of built in bbpress forum is very small and needs to be adjusted with custom css. This is a minor thing, but worth noting, because it will require you to mess around with code to change it.
6) It’s not clear, after you create a forum, how to set up sub categories or individual discussion boards within the forum for separate topic areas.
It finally falls into place if you create a second forum. Then you see that creating a new forum is actually creating a new sub category or discussion board in the forum.
At first though, it’s confusing, because “add new forum” means, at least to me, adding the forum functionality and overall container for a forum, which would then have sub categories/individual discussion boards within it.
7) The wysiwyg editor that a user sees in the forum isn’t great (this is the BB press wysiwyg editor.) Having a paired down wysiwyg editor that automatically inserts html tags that the user sees when they want to format text is not great in my opinion.
Most users won’t know what html is and will be confused when they proof-read their post and have to read what they wrote with various html tags scattered in their writing.
That makes it much harder to proof read. It would be great to have a normal wysiwyg editor in the forum so that people don’t have to see html if they don’t want to (but that option should be there if someone wants to adjust the html formatting manually.)
8) You can’t put someone on multiple lists in Aweber or Mailchimp after they purchase a product.
That can come in handy. I’m used to having that flexibility with Infusionsoft: being able to tag a customer with as many tags as you like when they buy something or opt in for something, which essentially allows infinite list segmentation and email targeting.
For example, I always put customers on my main, general email list as well as a specific list for just the product they bought so that I can send them both my general emails with new blog post content, as well as target member’s only emails to them because they bought a specific program.
If I can only put people on one list after they purchase, I have to choose one over the other. If I choose a product specific list, that customer won’t get my general emails. If I put them on my general list, I won’t be able to send them member specific emails.
This isn’t a problem if you use Aweber, because you can send out any email broadcast to multiple lists at the same time, but as far as I know, you can’t do that in Mailchimp.
9) There are no CRM (customer relationship management) tools built in, meaning, there is no contact record created for customers that allows you to see everything about them all in one place, such as all the emails they’ve gotten and opened or not opened, their payment history, the ability to leave notes, see their credit card info, process a refund for them, check on their subscription status, attempt to run through a payment manually, update their billing address for them, and so on.
Having a person record for each customer where you can see all that info and do many tasks right in one place would really be nice to have in Rainmaker.
You can see a do many of the things I just listed above, but the areas where you have to go to do them are scattered in different parts of the system.
10) When using a Rainmaker order form for a product, the customer will be entering their credit card info over on a non-secure connection, but credit card info needs to be entered over a secure, encrypted connection.
If the order form pages aren’t secure pages that have the “s” in https://, that means you, as a site owner will be violating PCI compliance (which is a law concerning the encryption of all customer billing information if it’s entered somewhere on your site and submitted.)
In the marketing copy for the Rainmaker platform, they mention that you get an SSL certificate included with your account, which is great, but it doesn’t appear to be automatically enabled, at least it’s not in my account.
This could be a simple thing to resolve with a support ticket to them, but I haven’t asked them about it yet.
11) There isn’t a way to pause a subscription in Rainmaker and start it back up. It would be great to be able to do that, since, for example, I often get requests from people who run into financial issues that need to take a break from payments for a month, so I need to be able to pause subscriptions and then start them back up.
12) Testing out the purchasing workflow as a test customer is a pain. When you set up new products you’ll need to test and adjust the workflow and test it all again, and then adjust some more things, and test again until the entire purchase process is working properly.
Currently, you have to log out of the admin side of your Rainmaker site, then go to the front of your site, go through the purchase process as a customer, which will involve logging in to the front of the site to access a member area, or at least a download page.
As you find things that need to be adjusted in the workflow, like what thank you page appears after the purchase is complete, you’ll need to log out of the front of the site as the test customer, then log back into the admin side as your admin user, make changes, then log back out and go through the process all over again on the front of the site as a test customer.
That process gets tedious when you need to test everything multiple times.
It would be great to be able to click on one button from the admin side and be able to preview the front of the site as a new customer, without the front of the site thinking that you’re already logged in as the admin user.
Then you could just flip back and forth between two tabs and test out the purchase workflow with ease, as many times as needed, and you’d end up saving a lot of wasted time from logging in and out of the admin side and the front side of the site.
13) No way to manually set up purchases for customers. As you run a business that sells online courses or programs, you will inevitably run into situations where you’ll need to be able to manually sign someone up for a product or subscription from the back end without requiring them to go through an order form on the front.
Currently, there’s no way to do that, since Rainmaker isn’t storing any credit card information, nor is it pulling stored information from either your Stripe, Authorize.net, or Paypal accounts.
14) The Rainmaker/Stripe integration is a bit confusing to set up. When I was testing Rainmaker over the last couple weeks, Stripe, which is a payment processing app, was new to me. I’ve known about it for a long time, but had never used it.
I won’t go into the details here, but I found the setup process of connecting my Stripe account with Rainmaker a bit confusing.
The workflow is not clear in a few places and it took me a good 20 minutes to figure out why it wasn’t working and how to finally tie the two together.
Once you get Stripe and Rainmaker hooked up, the two work great together, but the setup process needs some documentation to help make things easier.
15) There are no full site backup files that you can download or have automatically sent to an offsite storage server in case your site gets hacked. Rainmaker sites are hosted on the Synthesis hosting service, which does daily backups of your site and keeps 7 days of backups on hand so they can restore your site to a previous version if they need to.
So, there are backups of your site being automatically made, but I always like to have multiple backup copies of my websites in different locations for extra insurance.
It sucks to have your site hacked and then find out that the one backup copy you have of your site is unusable, meaning, there’s no way you can restore that backup copy of your site…which leaves you without a website. Not cool.
I love it when hosts backup my site automatically, and that’s in place here with Rainmaker. But I also love to have the option to have daily backups of my whole site and it’s database sent to an offsite storage service of my choosing, like my Dropbox account or an Amazon S3 account.
When that’s in place, I have full control over keeping as many full backups of my site as I want. I usually keep 30 days of backups in my offsite storage, and that brings me peace of mind. I know I have two backup copies of my site in different locations that can be used to restore my site if it gets hacked.
16) No access to edit common files of WordPress. If you’re a designer or developer who likes to be able to get into the code of your WordPress site to customize things (beyond adding custom CSS, which you can do in Rainmaker themes), you won’t be able to access any of the files you’re used to accessing via FTP, like the functions.php, template-blog.php, or header.php.
17) No automatic notification of replies to comments sent to commenters. Many people who use the self-hosted version of WordPress also install some kind of plugin that will send an email notification to anyone who’s left a comment on your site when you reply to one of their comments. Currently, this functionality doesn’t exist in Rainmaker. It makes having a conversation with people in your comments difficult, because most people who leave comments will not come back to your site to check and see if you responded to them, which means your responses will mostly benefit future readers who read through the comments.
18) Can’t apply tax to purchases and display paid tax in customer invoices. Business owners in several states in the U.S. and several countries around the world need to charge tax for products and programs they sell online, and have that tax displayed in invoices that customer receive. If they don’t, they’ll be breaking a law.
Currently, there’s no way for business owners to charge a tax and have it displayed on invoices in Rainmaker.
Who’s Rainmaker good for?
The number of variables involved in deciding if a particular combination of software is right for an online business is large. Like super large. This means that unfortunately, I can’t easily answer the question: “Is Rainmaker right for me?”
The answer is, in every case, “It depends.”
It depends on what you want to sell, how you want to deliver it, what your budget is like, and what kind of marketing strategies you want to implement within your software system.
If you’re starting a new business and you’re interested in building your own very powerful media platform that allows you to market and sell products or online programs using content marketing and a “media not marketing” approach, Rainmaker should be in the top position on your list of solutions to consider. It’s designed, from the ground up, to do exactly (or probably very, very close to) what you’re wanting to do.
Rainmaker will be growing fast, and many of the things on the “con” list above will likely be gone by the time you get to the point where you’d need those things to be changed.
If you’ve got an existing online business with a website design that you are very attached to, and if you need to have a full fledged affiliate marketing system, Rainmaker could still work for you, but you may want to wait a bit until they build a more robust affiliate marketing system into the platform.
If you’re attached to your current site design, you’ll need to have that design transformed into a custom WordPress theme that’s built on the Genesis theme framework, and then you can import that custom theme into Rainmaker.
There are dozens and dozens of other cases I could think of where Rainmaker could either be the best solution for you right now, or where it might be better for you to pause and evaluate other options too.
The best thing to do is 1) to make sure you go through my tour, as well as the pro and con lists, above and see if the pros outweigh the cons for your specific needs, and 2) sign up to take Rainmaker for a free trial and see for yourself it it will meet (or exceed) your needs.
Okay, so, I think I broke my record for the longest blog post I’ve ever written. I hope you’ve found this review to be super helpful to you.
Deciding on software for your business can be a long, arduous journey. Reviews like this can make that journey much less difficult on you, which is my main desire here…to help make things easier for you.
I strongly encourage you to head over to the New Rainmaker site and not only sign up for their podcast, but also get on the list to try out Rainmaker, which you can do on this page.
This software is something special, and the only way you’ll really know if it’s for you is to sign up for a free trial and take it for a spin yourself.
If you do take it for a spin, leave a comment below and let me know what you think!