If you run an agency in the WordPress industry, the chances are you’ve heard of & even considered the WaaS (website as a service) business model as a part of your growth strategy.

So, in this guide, we’ll cover everything from what WaaS & WordPress Multisites are, to how you can plan, launch and run a successful website as a service business yourself.

What’s the biggest challenge you face while setting up your WaaS business? Is it setting up a proper ‘Website as a Service’ business model that can help you to host 100s, if not thousands, of blogs and websites together that generate recurring revenue, creating a smooth onboarding experience, or knowing the framework and platforms you need to develop dynamic web applications? 

Whatever the challenge might be, this article will tell you everything you need to know about WaaS and how WordPress Multisite can be used as a business model for WaaS. 

What Is WordPress Multisite & WaaS? 

In short, WordPress Multisite is a way of adding multiple websites to a single WordPress installation. Activating it is super simple, not dissimilar to installing WordPress the normal way (which we’ll cover later), and once enabled, it’ll let you create sites that belong to your multisite network. 

It’s a powerful piece of tech, and many big businesses have been built on top of this technology using what is commonly referred to as the WaaS (or, website as a service) business model. 

WordPress Multisite & Website As A Service Examples

Let’s take a look at some of the most successful WordPress Multisite & WaaS examples:

The WordPress.com Platform

The WordPress.com WaaS Platform

A perfect example to reference when discussing the power and scope of the website as a service business model is WordPress.com. Built on top of the self-hosted WordPress.org content management system, it uses WordPress multisite to power millions of blogs and websites in their multisite network. 

WordPress acquires its users by offering free accounts to anyone who wants to set up a website with a free, branded subdomain included. And then, once you’re in, some features are limited in order to tempt people into upgrading to a paid account.

WordPress.com launched back in 2005 and continues to build on a solid reputation on the back of this WaaS model. It worked then and it still works to this day. Of course, if you were to launch your own WaaS, chances are you’ll choose a slightly more specific market to cater to (at least, initially) to fuel your growth – we’ll cover strategy in a separate section later in this article.

Incsub’s CampusPress & Edublogs Platforms

Incsub's Edublogs WaaS Multisite Platform

Another well-known example of a business that built and seriously profited off of the WaaS & multisite model is WPMU DEV’s parent company – Incsub. 

Incsub owns CampusPress & Edublogs, both of which are great examples of WordPress multisites. They’re great examples of how other businesses can still launch a WaaS platform and profit off of it today; provided they carve out a section of the market that they know how to approach, sell, & market to. 

Normal WordPress Installations vs. WordPress Multisite – What Are The Key Differences?

To run a profitable WaaS business, your success depends on a constant stream of clients needing to get work done. 

However, this kind of workload is impossible to manage when you have to build a completely new website from scratch – complete with plugins and installations. 

This is where WordPress Multisite comes in, and provides a huge quality of life boost compared to doing things manually.

The top three advantages of WordPress Multisite are: 

  1. The number of individual websites – You can run/update any number of websites through WordPress Multisite easily, without having to micromanage each one individually.
  2. User roles Activating WordPress Multisite enables the network and super admin roles, meaning you can delegate a portion of your workload to someone else.
  3. Easy access to the whole network – All the sites that you create in the network are under your control, and you can manage/customize them according to your requirements.

Also, with WordPress Multisite, a single click can update common plugins across all websites. 

How To Create Your Own Website As A Service Platform With RunCloud (New 🎉)

Both deploying & managing your website as a service (WaaS) platform as you grow has never been easier than it is with RunCloud thanks to our all-new Domain & SSL V2 support.

Today, we’re beyond excited to announce a range of improvements to our domain & SSL functionality as well as our integration with WP Ultimo – the best solution for businesses looking to launch their own WaaS today.

So, without further ado – let’s dive right in to have a closer look at all the changes. To do so, we’ll kick things off by deploying a web application on this existing server we’ve added to this account. 

RunCloud New Web Application

When doing so – you’ll now notice three new options: 

#1 – The ability to automatically enable the www version of this domain to redirect to your preferred domain version (i.e. www to non-www or vice versa)

This first new setting is simply designed to let you decide as well as easily configure which domain version you wish to use right as you create your web application (to automate the process and make sure it’s just that one additional thing you no longer have to take into consideration). 

#2 – The ability to choose your SSL/TLS method

The new option to select SSL/TLS Encryption methods has two modes. Advanced and Basic. The advanced mode issues a different SSL certificate for every domain added to this web application while when set to basic, a single SSL certificate is issued and used for every single domain on this web application.

And #3 – the ability to enable AutoSSL

And, when using the Advanced method – you’ll also be able to take advantage of RunCloud’s AutoSSL functionality to automatically deploy an SSL certificate for every domain added to this web application. 

Thanks to the Advanced method and AutoSSL, you no longer need to worry about hitting the Let’s Encrypt 100-domain limit, all while still enjoying the benefits of SSLs on all of the domains and subdomains that are attached to this web application. 

And while for most use-cases, doing so is perfectly fine – issuing a single certificate and private key for multiple domains/subdomains can become messy at scale when new domains are attached wherein an issue can arise if the SSL certificate fails to be re-issued affecting all websites that relied on that certificate. 

And last but not least, this also improves security as people snooping around SSL certificate records for all the sites that you handle the hosting for won’t have a field day when they can just scrape all of the people they know are in your WaaS (for example) by looking at the SSL certificate. This is perfect for WordPress WaaS and multisite platforms with multiple domains as well as custom SaaS platforms that use RunCloud to manage their servers and let customers connect their own domains so that they can always automatically issue an SSL certificate for those added domains.

How To Enable WordPress Multisite

WordPress Multisite is built-in, but always disabled by default. So to get started with your own multisite network on RunCloud, simply use our 1-click WordPress installation on OpenLiteSpeed (or NGINX).

After which, simply navigate to our file manager to edit your wp-config.php file to enable multisite.

To do so, you simply need to add the following code to your wp-config.php file just before the /* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. / line.

/* Multisite */

define('WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE', true); */

Once you’re done simply save the changes using RunCloud’s file manager and the change will automatically be propagated and deployed to your server instantly.

Once enabled, you will still need to set up the multisite network. WordPress walks you through the process step-by-step, to get started simply head to Tools > Network Setup.

What Makes A Successful WaaS (And The Benefits)?

The website’s design, trusted website signals, website security, marketing, and effective SEO come together to form the perfect recipe needed to build a successful WaaS business. 

The Benefits Of WordPress Multisite & Websites as a Service

There are three key benefits of using WordPress multisite networks as opposed to just maintaining multiple individual WordPress installations, which are: 

  1. More efficient management
  2. Better development workflow
  3. Easier to host (especially with RunCloud

These are the fundamental benefits that you as a WaaS owner can experience if you go with this business model. Let’s take a closer look at the offering as a whole & how you can use it at your agency to cater to a whole new market of people looking to build websites. 

Smaller Initial Investment & Premium Add-Ons

Instead of having customers pay the typical $3,000-5,000+ (at the very least) for a custom-built website, WaaS is an excellent downsell to welcome the client until they decide to move forward with your agency for a larger website build. 

The client will invest less at the start, from $400 – $1,000, coupled with a monthly fee that ranges from $150 – $600 per month. The monthly can range based on how many new requests and changes per month are included, advanced functionality like integrations, chat, eCommerce, scheduling and anything else that you could possibly need your website to do, including social media sites, bookings, events, multi-vendor eCommerce websites, and more.

Offer Ongoing Support & Never Let Sites Go Out Of Date

Even with big clients, when something isn’t on retainer the work stops at some point. It may be after they pay the final deposit or when the site gets approved. Generally, this means there is no recurring element to the work either. 

However, design preferences change. A brand new site might no longer be truly reflective of a business down the line. 

If a client paid 5k for a website, and 6 months later it makes their company look like it is outdated – this is less-than-ideal. Designs that were in yesterday, might not be in a week’s time and clients want to be able to make changes, access their site and get your help when they need it. 

WP Buffs WordPress Support

With Websites As A Service and Multisite you’re able to forego these issues and easily keep websites up-to-date – which is a tried and tested business model that’s worked for a whole host of businesses in the WordPress industry alone including, most notably WP Buffs & GoWP.

GoWP WordPress Support

Launching & Growing Your WaaS – Next Steps

Niche Down & Specialize In What You Can Outperform In

Launching a platform exactly like WordPress.com on the average budget for a WaaS isn’t going to be easy. They’ve got huge amounts of money to outcompete you in what they’re building. While that certainly doesn’t mean building something that targets a broad market with a WordPress Multisite platform is impossible, it just tends to be better to start with a specialization in an industry where you have something unique to offer. 

For example, let’s say your agency at the moment mostly works with agencies across the country where you’re based – building a solution that specifically targets and helps those types of clients will be easier to sell. 

The next time you have a lead come to you which fits the demographic and doesn’t have the budget for a $5,000 website (or whatever you end up quoting them), you can refer them to your WaaS platform which was built exactly for dental professionals like them that are looking for something that’s much easier to get going and working right out of the box. 

As Matthew Rodela of KeyPress Media puts it:

“The WaaS business model is a great way to provide an option for your clients that may not be able to afford your regular web design/development services. It’s also a pretty reliable source of recurring revenue. And finally, it’s a way to get paying customers to the top of your funnel easily. Customers who have already paid you for something are MUCH more likely to buy your other services. I’ve built a six-figure agency off the back of my WaaS…”

Matthew Rodela, KeyPress Media

An excellent example of this which we mentioned earlier is Edublogs – although their market is also huge, they’ve niched down to the teacher, educator and student demographic. One which commonly interacts and shares information (such as a platform like Edublogs with each other). At the time of writing, it hosts almost 4,500,000 sites. The basic package is free and pricing beyond that starts at just $7.95 which is incredibly low considering it is exceptional value – removing all of the technical headaches beginners face of getting started and hosting the self-hosted version of WordPress. 

Marketing & Growing Your Website As A Service (WaaS) Platform

A WaaS is like any digital product and requires a large audience that is interested in it (like courses, plugins, etc.). So you do need to be good at reaching out to that audience via the typical marketing techniques like content marketing, SEO, and PPC. 

But, a great shortcut to revenue is to partner with someone who has already established an audience in the niche you’re targeting. Almost any industry has at least one “guru” that has become known as the go-to person online. Reach out to that person (or people) and let them know about your WaaS and see if you can work out some sort of referral partnership. 

What to Include in Your WaaS

There’s a lot of money in additional add-ons and premium services that can be sold on top of your website as a service platform – if done right. 

As long as they all add value and are designed in such a way that they wouldn’t make sense to include in the original monthly price of your WaaS, customers will benefit & you can turn a profit. 

Here are some ideas: 

  • Initial website design

Instead of just letting them handle their own website design with a DIY page builder that you include in your WaaS, you can charge a relatively small setup fee to take care of that for them to make sure it’s all working and in perfect shape. A lot of WaaS owners actually enforce this setup fee for all customers as it ensures that they get up and running and have a better experience all-round after their site is ready to go. 

  • Security

Anything from server updates, comment spam protection, SSL certificates and more. Everything that they no longer have to worry about because they’re hosting their website with you. 

  • Updates

Regular updates and testing for ongoing functionality improvements.

  • Hosting

The server environment that your website and all of its files and database live.

  • Backups

Regular backups and a recovery plan to get you back up quickly if something goes wrong.

  • Support

Ongoing support to help ensure that the website matches the level of service and quality you provide.

Have any questions about launching, growing or running a WaaS platform of your own with the help of RunCloud? Let us know & join the conversation by leaving a comment below. 💬