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Choose the right membership model (5 models you can use)

Want to start a membership site, but not sure how to structure it? We break down five popular membership models to help you choose.

Picture this: An online community of people all focused on accomplishing the same goal, supporting each other, and benefitting from your valuable expertise, content, and digital products.

No, it’s not too good to be true. It’s the power of a successful membership site.

When you run a membership site, you provide exclusive content to your customers in exchange for a monthly or annual subscription fee. You make money directly from your subscribers by offering them valuable content they can’t find anywhere else.

But before you get to sell memberships and watch the recurring revenue roll in, you need to start with the basics. How should you structure your membership?

To help you get started, we put together this guide to five popular membership models. We’ll explain how each one works and share examples from real-world creators.

Let’s jump right in with our first membership model.

1. Content update memberships

One of the best membership site models for keeping members active and engaged is the content update model. Members pay you for access to new content that you publish on an ongoing basis.

This model is ideal for creators who:

  • Don’t have an extensive content library to offer yet.

  • Plan to regularly share updates, insights, and ideas about your niche.

  • Want to inspire regular conversations among their members.

Plus, people want to see content from people and brands they care about.

72% of consumers want content from their favorite brands, and 61% of people are more likely to purchase from you if you offer unique content. Keeping them in the loop builds trust, creating a better customer experience.

If you use your membership site for blogging, members pay for access to those regular, exclusive updates and posts.

For example, entrepreneur Jay Acunzo includes access to regular updates and a community forum in his membership program, Make What Matters.

Make What Matters is a community for creators looking to create meaningful content and connect with each other, so the ability to discuss Jay’s posts together is a major perk.

Other high-value membership site content might include webinars, exclusive podcast episodes, digital downloads, virtual events, and more. Any regular update that provides value to your members and helps them achieve their goals is fair game.

So, if you’re new to content or want a more hands-off membership, a content update model is your best bet. If you already have a robust collection of content, our next membership model may be a better choice.

2. Content cache memberships

The content cache or content library model is perfect for creators who have already built up a solid collection of content. Signing up for this membership gives customers convenient access to your entire content library.

Take Whistle and Ivy’s Endless Bundle, for example.

For a fixed price of $87/year, Whistle and Ivy’s “All-Access Crochet Pattern Pass” offers subscribers:

  • The entire Whistle and Ivy patterns library

  • Full video pattern tutorials

  • Graphics and worksheets

  • A community of like-minded crocheters

  • Private VIP Facebook group

Unlike the content update model, the content cache model is all about easy access to an already-published collection of content.

Of course, you can combine both models, offering members access to existing content and future content updates. That’s how Painthog structures their Premium Membership.

For $29/month, paying members receive access to all of Painthog’s existing online courses, plus future courses and workshops as soon as they’re published.

Open Studio’s All-Access Pass is another excellent example of the content library model.

Upon joining, members receive instant access to over 1000 lessons, plus audio versions of lessons, workbooks, and more — all from one convenient dashboard.

When it comes to this membership model, convenience is key. Today’s consumers are willing to pay more for convenience, and one of the biggest drivers of a great customer experience is making it easy for customers to get what they need.

If you’ve already put in the work to create high-quality, valuable content, this membership model is your best bet. Focus on making it easy for your members to find the content they need to reach their goals, whether that’s learning to crochet or mastering a new instrument.

3. Product bundle memberships

At their most basic, here’s how product bundles and pricing work:

Let’s say you’re a social media expert who helps your customers master social media. You sell ebooks about social media marketing for $20 a pop and a collection of social media graphic templates for $50.

You decide to bundle the products together for $60 — cheaper than purchasing them separately.

By bundling these related products, your customers get all of the content and tools they need at once. Bundles can increase your products’ perceived value, making customers feel like they’re getting a great deal and encouraging them to buy more.

What do product bundles look like in a membership model?

If you have Netflix, you’re already familiar with this structure. This is the closest to a traditional subscription model. Instead of selling movies a la carte, Netflix bundles a huge variety of movies and TV shows into one subscription.

Subscription models are more popular than ever before, with the subscription economy growing more than 435% over the last nine years. The combination of cost savings and convenience makes product bundle memberships extra-appealing to potential members.

This model is ideal for creators with several related digital products to offer. Rather than selling each product individually, you charge members a flat yearly or monthly fee to access several (or all) products for a set amount of time.

For example, Esther Kurtz’s Write On! membership offers the products in her content library, regular Q&A sessions, a Slack group, and writing critiques from Esther — all for just $15/month after a 14-day free trial.

On their own, Esther’s products would cost over $40, but members can access them (plus community perks) for less than half the price.

Lifetime memberships are another option for bundling your products. A lifetime membership means that members pay once upfront rather than making recurring payments.

For example, InPower Coaching offers a Lifetime InPower Membership that gives members unlimited access to their community, courses, and content. InPower also offers a payment plan to make lifetime membership more accessible.

(Podia makes it easy for creators like Esther and InPower Coaching to build and run a successful membership website. Try it out for free and create your own membership with a 14-day trial.)

Here’s the bottom line for product bundle memberships:

If you have related products that provide ongoing benefits to your audience, you can join the subscription economy and make this membership model work for you.

4. Community memberships

Solopreneurship can be an isolating endeavor, and loneliness and remote working often go hand-in-hand. But even when we feel like we’re yelling into the void, chances are there are other people out there on similar journeys, facing the same obstacles and doubts.

Studies have shown that feeling socially supported can make a significant difference in our mental health, regardless of how much socializing we’re actually doing.

A community-based membership model gives members that social support.

Many community memberships are mastermind groups, collectives of like-minded people who offer each other advice and support, have a common goal, and help solve problems as a group.

There are mastermind groups in nearly every niche. For example, Justin Jackson created his MegaMaker community for developers and designers who “want more than a regular 9–5”.

As of 2018, Justin had brought in over $83K from his membership site.

Mastermind groups can be equally as rewarding for members, too. Brit Kolo, founder of Marketing Personalities, told us that joining a mastermind group was one of the best investments she’s made in her business:

“Business growth is just the beginning of the incredible effects … I’ve also grown as a human being, a leader, and a CEO. The other business owners in my mastermind group have become lifelong friends, and I do not say that lightly.”

Plus, 27.3% of consumers use online communities to do research before making a purchase — so this model can help you sell digital downloads and courses to new customers, too.

An engaged and interactive member experience starts with you. Welcome new members, post regularly, and ask specific questions. Then, reply to comments to make your members feel heard.

Here are some conversation starters to get your members talking:

  1. What are your biggest challenges when it comes to [topic]?

  2. What do you want to learn more about?

  3. How can I help you succeed and meet your goals?

  4. What was your most important takeaway from our last discussion?

  5. What was your biggest success last month? What advice would you give others who want to achieve that?

Not only do these questions help you learn more about your members, but you also open up conversations for them to have with one another — conversations that form the foundation of an engaged, thriving membership community.

For more member engagement tips (plus a welcome post template), take a look at this article on membership posts. And check out this guide to building a strong membership community for even more advice.

As you can see, community-based memberships can be just as versatile as content-based memberships. That said, keep in mind that they require a bigger time commitment. You’ll need to regularly interact with members and moderate posts to keep everything on track.

Now, let’s move on to our fifth and final membership model.

5. Group coaching memberships

If you’re experienced in your field, there’s plenty of income potential in the coaching industry.

The U.S. market for personal coaching is expected to reach $1.34 billion by 2022, with the average annual income for specialty coaches hitting over $100,000 per year.

And people actively seek out mentors in their fields. 47% of people consider mentors to be important, and 29% say they’re very important.

To become a coach or consultant, you could go the classic one-on-one coaching route, like Eliot Sykes, a developer and open-source contributor who coaches fellow Rails developers.

If you don’t have the time to find consulting clients or offer one-on-one coaching, a group coaching membership can be a stellar way to scale your business while avoiding burnout.

Here’s what makes a group coaching membership model so powerful (and profitable).

Let’s say that you do ten hour-long coaching sessions every week. You charge $100 per session, which adds up to $1000 per week, or $4000 per month.

$4000 is nothing to sneeze at. But when you’re trying to grow an online business, your time is one of your most valuable resources. You don’t necessarily have forty hours to spend in coaching sessions every month.

Now imagine that you offer a group coaching membership at $200 per month. You offer weekly hour-long group coaching sessions. If you have twenty members, you’re bringing in $4000 per month — but instead of spending forty hours per month on coaching, you’re down to just four.

A group coaching model lets you deliver those coaching services at scale, and members also get access to your content updates and member community.

Becky Mollenkamp’s Gutsy Boss Club membership is a top-notch example of a group coaching membership.

One thing that makes Becky’s membership stand out is how far it goes beyond just coaching. Here are some of the recurring benefits of joining the Gutsy Boss Club:

  • Twice monthly group coaching calls

  • Monthly journaling prompts

  • Quarterly book club

  • Quarterly trainings from outside experts

  • Private Slack community

These recurring benefits are critical to member retention, too. It’s clear why Becky’s members renew their memberships month after month.

(For more tips on building a thriving coaching business, check out this guide to earning more money as a wellness coach, as well as these seven ways to make more money as a life coach.)

Offering coaching services as a membership is a little less clean-cut than the other models, and it can be more time-consuming, too. We recommend combining it with other types of memberships or keeping it separate from your core membership.

Before we wrap up, here are a few more resources to help you create a membership site that you and your members will love:

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Choosing the right membership model

At the end of the day, the best membership model for you is one that highlights your strengths and fits your brand.

Don’t be afraid to try out different membership types, or even combine aspects from multiple, to create a new membership model of your own. It’s all about finding what works for you and your audience.

To recap, here are five popular models for membership sites:

  • Content update memberships keep members coming back for more with regular updates and new content. This model is a great way to build engagement with your audience and establish yourself in your niche.

  • If you already have a wealth of content, the content cache model lets you offer members access to all of that content in one convenient spot.

  • Product bundle memberships are the closest to a “traditional” subscription model. You can bundle several related products together as part of a monthly or annual package.

  • Community memberships center on building a supportive group focused on a shared interest or goal. These memberships require a lot of hands-on involvement, but they can be incredibly rewarding for you and your members alike.

  • Group coaching memberships let you scale coaching services from one-to-one to one-to-many. This is another time-consuming option, but it’s also an opportunity to join the fast-growing personal coaching industry.

Creating and maintaining a successful membership site doesn’t happen overnight. But when you start with the right business model and put in the work, it can be a source of recurring revenue and a supportive community that grows with you and your business for years to come.

A portrait of Rachel Burns

About the author

Rachel is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and communities scale with their creators. When she’s not writing, you can find her rescuing dogs, baking something, or extolling the virtue of the Oxford comma.