Launching and running an online business is a lot like juggling. There are nine plates in the air at a given time, and if you miss a beat, half of them can break before you’ve blinked.
If you’ve been around the block for a minute, you’ve probably heard about membership websites and how the right membership software can set you up with recurring revenue and an online tribe.
This is all true. But how do you decide which model is best for your website? If you already have a business running, is it a good idea to bundle your products in your membership?
Is it safe to add another plate to your juggling act?
To help, we’ve put together this guide of five types of membership models and got down to the nitty-gritty to help you answer:
Which one is right for your website?
Before we get to that, however, we should clear the air first with a question of our own.
Why start a membership site?
Recurring revenue is definitely a nice bonus, but what else can a membership website do for your business?
For one, it can help establish you as an expert in your field, while helping you build a robust and tangible relationship with your audience members and customers. Plus, it’s easy to set up with Podia’s “Shaker” plan.
That said, if you’re new to creating content or working with information products, membership sites may not be the best first step on your online business journey.
If you’re willing to put in the hours to make it happen, however, you’ll get rewarded with consumers who are loyal enough to recommend your business to others. 86% of loyal consumers engage with a brand by passing on their accolades to other consumers.
What’s the secret to making your members that loyal? Make sure the membership meets their needs, just like you would with a loyalty program.
Once you land that, you don’t have to charge exorbitant fees to make a tidy income. The Ladies of Real Estate only charge $20.00 a month, but they have over 7,000 members.
This equates to over $140,000 in monthly revenue for them.
So, why start a membership site? Because, if you’re committed to growing it, you can build a tribe of supportive -- financially and otherwise -- members and a stable, profitable business.
Here are five models you can use for a membership site.
Content cache memberships
If you’ve already built up a ton of content and/or are giving away free content, a content cache or content library model is perfect for you.
But if you’re still building up your content inventory, this model may be better down the line than as your starting point, particularly if you want to create a lifetime membership tier.
Copyblogger’s free membership program is an excellent example of the content cache model.
Signing up gets you instant access to their content library in one convenient location.
And convenient is the important word there. Because even though you’ve already given away some -- or even all -- of your content for free, you can still charge for providing access to it.
After all, the biggest driver for great customer experience isn’t about delighting them. It’s about reducing the efforts they have to take to complete their goals.
And consumers will pay more for convenience. Time is short, and everyone is looking for a way to save it somewhere, so if your membership spares them from spending hours searching through your site, it’s a viable business model.
It’s one that a lot of online tribe leaders have put to work, too.
For example, Dewane Mutunga’s “Writer School” falls into this category because it provides a video resource library.
Likewise, McCoy Buck’s Moho Studio Academy is another content library because it offers the tools and resources members need for learning animation.
As a final example, Aja Edmond’s expertly styled membership is another content library that includes tools and resources for business owners.
All three of these creators have vastly different audiences, but all three have something in common, too: they have the content stores to offer members a convenient, easy-to-access library to better their lives.
So if you’ve already got a handle on the content game, this model can work for you.
You probably noticed that two of the last three examples included a community component.
Community-based membership models rely on the value proposition that the whole is stronger than the one. These require a lot of hands-on management, more so than a content library, to ensure that whatever platform you’re using for your community stays safe and engaged.
Facebook Groups are a popular option to use for this, but forums are also common.
But anyone can start a group, right? How does this model work as a business?
Remember how consumers pay more for convenience? They’ll pay more for a human touch in their experience, as well. That's why Melissa Norris, seasoned and successful membership site owner, says her community has been one of her greatest business assets. (To hear more from Melissa, check out our expert membership site tips.)
After all, the top four reasons people say foster an emotional connection to a business can all be fulfilled by a community-based membership.
If that’s not enough, you should also consider this fact: 27.3% of consumers use an online community devoted to a product or service to do research before making a purchase.
So this model can not only sell memberships but help you sell digital downloads and courses, too.
Let’s check out some examples of this model in action.
First up is Digital Freelancer. While this membership includes a content library, it also features a Slack channel that gives it a community focus.
Support and collaboration from other freelancers going through the rigamarole of making it in the self-employed world can do a lot to evoke positive emotions in members.
RJ McCollam’s Hector has a community model membership around it, too. Again, you see it on Slack and geared at freelancers.
For a Facebook-specific example, Becky Mollenkamp builds her “Own It. Crush It.” membership around a community of thriving women entrepreneurs helping each other as they learn the ropes.
Alongside their excellent coach, of course.
As you can see, community-based memberships are just as versatile as content libraries.
However, these have a heavier time requirement, as you -- or someone you appoint -- will need to act as a moderator to keep the community thriving and on track.
What if you want a community without quite as much work, however? For that, you should try the next model.