The Recurring Revenue Model: A SaaS Startup's Lifeblood

Bethany Mullinix
5 min read
The Recurring Revenue Model: A SaaS Startup's Lifeblood

Failing to comprehend or properly execute a recurring revenue model can have dire consequences for your startup. Accurate forecasting and budgeting become challenging, hindering your ability to plan for future growth and investments. Instead of relying on a steady stream of income, you become overly dependent on one-time sales, which are notoriously unstable and unpredictable. 

This can lead to a vicious cycle of constantly acquiring new customers but having difficulty retaining them and growing your business. Even more, scaling and expanding become nearly impossible without a predictable source of income.Then you miss out on opportunities to maximize revenue from existing customers through upsells and other strategies.

Unleash the full potential of your startup by understanding the power of the Recurring Revenue Model. With this model in your arsenal, you'll enjoy a more predictable and stable source of income, greater control over your finances, and an increased likelihood of long-term business growth.

Keep reading to discover how you can harness the benefits of this powerful business strategy and take your startup to new heights.

What Is A Recurring Revenue Model?

A recurring revenue model (RRM) is a business model in which your company receives revenue regularly, typically through a subscription or contract rather than a one-time payment. It's an effective way of ensuring steady income based on scheduled payments versus one-off sales. It’s also valuable for improving customer relationships and fostering long-term growth.

What Types Of Businesses Use Recurring Revenue?

Content-based, product-based, and services-based businesses can all use the recurring revenue model differently. 

Here are some of these types of businesses and how they might put this model into action:

  • Content-based companies, like media or subscription-based websites, can use an RRM by offering paid subscriptions or memberships to access their content.
  • Product-based companies, like software or hardware businesses, can offer annual or monthly subscriptions to access their products or services.
  • Services-based companies, like consulting or professional services firms, might offer a fee for ongoing support or maintenance services.

For the remainder of the article, we will focus on how the recurring revenue model affects and is relevant to software-as-a-service (SaaS) businesses.

Recurring Revenue Vs Non-Recurring Revenue

Recurring and non-recurring revenue are two different types of revenue that a business can generate. Recurring revenue refers to a regular, predictable income stream your company receives periodically, often through subscriptions or monthly contracts.

Non-recurring revenue is a one-time revenue source that does not repeat. Examples might be selling a product, signing a customer up for a single service, or finishing an ongoing project. This type can be irregular and unreliable, which is the opposite of what you want. 

Companies that rely on recurring revenue tend to have more consistent cash flow, while those relying on non-recurring revenue may experience fluctuations in revenue and profitability.

Types of Recurring Revenue Models

There are many different ways that you can apply a recurring revenue model to your startup. Let’s dive into a few variations on this model in more detail: 

1. Subscription-Based

In a subscription-based RRM, a customer pays a recurring fee, usually monthly or annually, for access to a product or service. These include streaming, software, online news and magazines, fitness, wellness, and meal delivery services. 

Subscriptions provide a consistent and predictable revenue stream. They also foster long-term relationships with customers and can help retain them over time. Subscription services offer an opportunity to monetize customer relationships over an extended period, as well as to sell additional products and services to existing customers.

The success of a subscription-based model depends on retaining a high number of subscribers over time. Acquiring new customers can be difficult, and the cost of acquiring new subscribers may outweigh the revenue. 

Customers may resist switching to a subscription model if they are accustomed to paying for products or services on a one-time basis. The market for subscribers is highly competitive, and your company may have trouble standing out from competitors.

2. Membership-Based

In a membership-based RRM, your customer pays a recurring fee to become a member of a club, organization, or service and receives certain benefits or privileges. Members usually pay their dues on a monthly or annual basis. 

Membership-based models have the same pros and cons as subscription-based models. On one hand, predictable revenue and stronger customer relationships. On the other hand, difficulty acquiring new members, and dependence on customer retention.

3. Usage-Based

In a usage-based recurring revenue model, a customer pays for the actual usage of a product or service, such as the amount of data or minutes used. This type of model is commonly used in industries such as telecommunications and utilities. T

The positives are that customers only pay for what they use, making the model more attractive and fair. You can potentially earn more revenue as usage increases and collect data on customer usage patterns, which can inform product and pricing decisions. 

However, usage patterns can be unpredictable, making it difficult to forecast revenue. This also creates uncertainty around billing for your customer’s time on the platform fluctuates monthly. If your startup charges for usage, we recommend using a sophisticated billing system to keep your records in shape and your customers informed.

4. Per-User

In a per-user recurring revenue model, your company charges a recurring fee for each user who accesses or uses its products or services. 

This model is highly effective, as you can increase revenue by adding more users. The per-user model aligns with customers' usage patterns and can help ensure fair pricing. However, this model is only successful if you’re acquiring and retaining businesses with a high number of users.

5. Per-Device

A per-device recurring revenue model is a business model in which your company charges a recurring fee for each device that accesses or uses its products or services. The Internet of Things (IoT) and technology industries often use this model.

This model has many of the same pros and cons we’ve already seen – aligning with usage patterns, improved customer insights, and increased revenue potential, but also dependence on device acquisition and competition for devices.

6. Freemium Model

In a freemium model, your company offers a basic version of its product or service for free and charges for premium features. This type of model combines elements of both free and paid models and can generate recurring revenue from the premium features. 

This model allows companies to reach a large audience by offering a free version of their product or service. They can reduce customer acquisition costs by relying on word of mouth and organic growth.

It can be challenging to convert free users to paid users. You might also have less revenue per user than with paid-only models.

7. Multi-Tiered Billing

In a multi-tiered billing recurring revenue model, your company offers different pricing tiers based on the level of features and services provided. This model allows companies to cater to various customer needs and generate recurring revenue from customers at different levels. 

The most significant benefit is that you can cater to various customer needs and budget constraints by offering different pricing tiers. However, companies must carefully balance the pricing tiers and ensure that the pricing structure is easy for customers to understand. 

Customers may switch to a competitor offering a similar product at a lower price point. Companies may depend on customers upgrading to higher tiers to generate significant recurring revenue.

3 Benefits Of Recurring Revenue Models

A recurring revenue model can majorly benefit your business. Its stability and predictability keep you running and can be your springboard to greater success. Specifically, incorporating this model has three key benefits:

1. Predictable Income

Recurring revenue models provide predictable income for your business, offering a steady revenue stream over time. You can minimize revenue fluctuations often associated with one-time sales by charging customers regularly for access to a product or service. 

2. Increased Customer Loyalty

Customer loyalty is paramount in recurring revenue models, and is something you can increase by fostering relationships. By offering continuous access to a product or service, you create an opportunity for customers to become more familiar with and invested in your business. This, in turn, can lead to increased customer satisfaction, trust, and loyalty. 

Recurring revenue models also allow your company to offer added value to customers through regular updates, upgrades, and other benefits. This contributes to a positive customer experience and bolsters their loyalty. More on this benefit below.

Additionally, the recurring billing process helps to establish a routine and creates a sense of commitment between the customer and your business, further contributing to customer loyalty.

3. Potential For Growth And Upselling or Cross-Selling

There is significant growth potential and upselling or cross-selling opportunities with recurring revenue models by offering a platform to engage customers on an ongoing basis. When you regularly interact with customers, you can better understand their needs and preferences and identify new opportunities for growth and revenue. 

You could have the opportunity to upsell existing customers on additional products or services or cross-selling complementary products. As recurring revenue models often offer different pricing tiers based on the level of features and services provided, you can encourage customers to upgrade to higher tiers over time. Most importantly, recurring revenue models can help you expand into new markets and reach new customers.

Challenges Of Recurring Revenue Models

Like anything, recurring revenue models have their challenges. You can certainly overcome these challenges if you understand how they might impact your plans.

Dependence On Customer Retention

Customer churn can significantly affect your revenue stream's predictability. The recurring billing process assumes that customers will continue to pay regularly, so if they do not, revenue fluctuates.

If your business relies on recurring revenue models, it might be challenging to retain long-term customers since you have to continuously provide value and their needs.

What's more, if your business experiences a sudden drop in the number of customers, it can be difficult to recover and regain the lost revenue. As a result, if you use recurring revenue models, you must focus on retaining customers and minimizing SaaS churn.

Difficulties In Scaling

An RRM presents unique difficulties in scaling because it requires a steady influx of new customers. As the number of customers increases, it gets harder to consistently provide the high level of service you need to retain customers and generate repeat business. This can lead to increased costs, which can be challenging to manage without sacrificing profitability.

Recurring revenue models often involve complex pricing and billing systems, which can become increasingly hard to manage as customers grow. These systems need to handle a large volume of transactions efficiently and accurately. 

These also often involve long-term contracts, making it difficult for your business to adjust the pricing or make changes to your product offerings without disrupting your revenue streams.

Need For Consistent Product And Service Improvement

This revenue model runs on the need for a consistent product or service improvement, as it relies so heavily on customer satisfaction and the ability to retain customers over time. Your business needs to keep innovating and improving your products or services to remain relevant and meet the evolving needs of your customers. 

The tricky part is that you must make meaningful improvements and changes to your products or services without messing up your existing revenue streams. This requires careful planning and a deep understanding of customer needs and behaviors, which can be challenging to achieve as your business scales.

SaaS Revenue Recognition: How-To

SaaS (Software as a Service) revenue recognition refers to acknowledging and recording from subscription-based software services. Here are some basic steps for identifying SaaS revenue:

1. Determine the contract – Identify the customer agreement that outlines the terms and conditions of the sale.

2. Identify the performance obligations – Determine what the customer has agreed to receive and when it will be delivered.

3. Determine the transaction price – Calculate the total revenue to recognize from the sale.

4. Allocate the transaction price – Allocate the transaction price to each performance obligation based on its stand-alone selling price.

5. Recognize revenue – Recognize revenue when the performance obligations have been satisfied, typically as the customer uses the software over time.

And as always, we recommend following GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) and IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) guidelines and reviewing your recognition processes regularly for compliance. 

How ARR and MRR Fit Into The Equation

ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue) and MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) are critical metrics used to measure the performance of SaaS businesses. ARR is the total recurring revenue your company can expect over a year, while MRR is the recurring revenue received monthly.

Companies use both ARR and MRR in conjunction with the revenue recognition process. ARR and MRR are calculated by taking the total recurring revenue for a specified time and dividing it by the number of months or years in that period. You can learn more about how to calculate ARR and MRR here

Sustaining A Recurring Revenue Model

To sustain a recurring revenue model, retaining customers over the long term is crucial.

You can achieve this by:

  • Offering prompt, helpful, and personalized support
  • Investing in research and development to improve the product or service
  • Adding useful new services or features
  • Building solid customer relationships through regular communication, feedback, and engagement
  • Having flexible pricing and billing options
  • Tracking and analyzing customer churn to monitor progress
  • Offering incentives such as discounts or loyalty programs

Why Is Recurring Revenue Important?

Recurring revenue models are crucial to a successful business, offering a more predictable and stable income source than one-time sales. This revenue stream allows your business to retain customers over time, generating consistent revenue and fostering customer loyalty through ongoing value and an improved overall experience. 

Furthermore, a recurring revenue model can improve your cash flow and enhance your company's valuation, making it an attractive investment opportunity. By creating a reliable income stream, recurring revenue drives long-term growth and stability for your business.

Experience the power of AI Accounting & Bookkeeping for
your business in our interactive demo!
Start Exploring Zeni
Let's Get Your 2024 Budget Right!
Schedule Your Free Consultation
Hire A Fractional CFO
Not sure where to start? Feeling overwhelmed? Just want someone to take this off your plate?

Secure a free 1:1 session with Zeni’s Fractional CFO
Schedule a Free Call