The subscription economy is thriving, as companies all over the world are chasing recurring, monthly revenue via subscription sites. Even things that we used to buy and own are now being offered on a subscription model. From the Peloton workout craze to your car-sharing service to your Windows operating system, subscription models are all the rage.
And one of the sides to the subscription economy is the membership business. While there’s not a clear difference between a subscription and a membership, we’d think of membership businesses as a type of subscription. But unlike your Netflix subscription, a membership model doesn’t just give you access. Ideally, it also gives you a connection to other members, opportunities for growth, learning, and support, and–ultimately–community.
If you are looking to build a membership model for your business, whether you are a sole creator or an established brand, you're in luck. There has never been a better time to do it.
This article will walk you through how to sell memberships online. Whatever your stage of business growth, it will help you think through the big framing questions and give you the best chance of success.
In this article
Advantages to selling memberships online
- Recurring monthly or annual revenue
- The ability to build lasting relationships and transformation for your members
- A business model with unlimited scalability
- Deliver real transformation to your members
Identify your ideal member
One of the first steps to selling memberships online is going to be figuring out who your ideal member is. Who is the person who is actually going to pay for the thing you offer? Who is the person who will be dedicated enough long-term to keep paying, month after month?
There are a few steps that you can take to identify who your ideal member is.
Find your value proposition
Depending on where you're starting from, one of the best things to do is to find your value proposition. This is going to be a unique selling feature that you or your brand offer.
If you have an existing brand, this might be pretty straightforward. You probably already have a sense of who buys your stuff and why. Your membership community might be an extension of this mission.
Otherwise, take some time to get clear on what value you want to offer people.
- Is there a personal transformation you can walk them through?
- Is there something in your story that makes you uniquely qualified to help others?
- Is there an angle you take that nobody else has?
These are the types of questions that will help you clarify your value proposition.
One more thing to remember about your value proposition is that it's based on what your customers get, not what you sell. A famous example is that Michelin doesn't sell tires, they sell peace of mind. Frame your value proposition as the benefit that your members will get, not the service you offer. Often, great value propositions start with the words We help… (e.g. “We help millennial women become financially literate and ready for retirement.”)
Interview potential members
Although you can sit down and clarify your value proposition, there's really nothing like talking to your potential members. It's here that you will figure out their fears and hopes.
Set up some interviews with people. Pick anywhere from 20 to 50 who you think might be interested in what you are offering, and see if you can have a 15-minute or half-hour conversation with them. You can ask questions like:
- What are your biggest struggles right now?
- Where would you like to be in a year?
- What are the things holding you back from achieving your goal?
- What kind of support would you get most excited about?
- What would you be able to pay for this support?
Set your ideal member
Once you've done these interviews, you’re probably getting a sense of who you want to work with and who you don't. Pick your ideal member. You can even write a description of them, that might look something like this:
My ideal member is a female graphic designer who has some design ability, but doesn't know how to run a design business. They are probably in their mid-30s, and need a clear plan for mastering their craft and finding customers.
The more detail you can add the better!
Write your big purpose statement
One final thing that we love to do, and it's a process we walked through in our Community Design™ training, is to write a big purpose statement for your members.
It looks something like this:
Choose the right platform
Once you know who your people are and why they are going to come, you need to figure out where you are going to host them and how much you’re going to charge.
We’ll put in a plug here for Mighty Networks! It's an amazing, white-label membership software that will give you all the tools you need to sell online memberships. You can build plans, bundles, webinars, courses, private subgroups, and more. And did we mention that it comes with an app?
Build a marketing strategy
Since you've done all the work to figure out who your ideal client is, the next step will be to figure out how to sell your membership to them. And before you get to questions like your sales platform, you need to figure out how to make the pitch to them.
The great news is, if you wrote your big purpose statement above, you already have this started.
Sit down and craft some brand messaging for how you will convey your value to your members. This messaging can be put on landing pages, sales materials, or emails. And it should be consistent!
The way we do this when somebody creates a Mighty Network is to prompt you to list benefits that members will get. These benefits can be a mixture of features you offer and the long-term rewards of joining.
Benefits for the Master Pencil-Drawing Community
- Monthly workshops with the best artists
- Over 3 hours of recorded lessons
- Weekly practice tips and live co-drawing sessions
- Learn to draw amazing portraits you can sell, and how to find customers
- Build your drawing business from $0 to a full-time income
We'll get into some other marketing strategies in a minute, but one place to start is with what you already have. If you are an existing business launching a new membership, reach out to existing customers and let them know what's happening.
If you are a business of one, trying to launch your own thing, start spreading the word about what you are doing. One of the best places to start can be the people you interviewed to find your ideal customer. While you shouldn't make them feel obligated to join, don't be surprised that some of them will want to! After all, you basically found out what they wanted and then built it. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?
Use social media
Another tried-and-true strategy for letting people know that you are selling memberships is to turn to social media. Develop a social media strategy that will help you get in front of potential members.
You should know that there is an upside and a downside to social media. While there is a lot of attention there, and it's usually free if you are not buying ads, it takes some work. We won’t go into a whole social media strategy here, but here are some things to consider:
- Post consistently. Getting on social media is not going to be a matter of putting up a post or two and watching the members flood in. You will need a consistent strategy. One of the easiest ways to develop consistency on social media is to sit and write out all of your posts for a week or two, and then schedule them.
- Don't try to be everywhere. Pick one or two platforms at the most, where you are pretty sure your audience hangs out, and spend your time there.
- Be bold. There is an avalanche of information on social media, and a lot of the stuff done in the name of business is terrible. Say real things. Tell stories. You might even choose to be a little controversial, if it fits your brand. (e.g. "Here's the truth about personal finance that the gurus won't tell you.")
- Reuse your posts. After the end of your social cycle, look back at which posts did well. Plan to reuse these, and write some new posts to fill in the gaps.
- Include a call to action. At the end of your posts, include a call to action that tells your potential members what the next steps are!
Use your email
If you have an email list of any kind, even if it's 20 people, use your email to announce your new membership. Email still has a really high rate of conversion, and unlike social media, people always check their email.
Develop your sales process
So once you’ve let people know that your membership is launching, you can start to think through how to actually make sales. You don’t need to be a master sales-funnel builder here. In fact, when you’re setting up a Mighty Network we give you all the prompts to get your landing pages and checkout ready to go – it’s really not hard.
And we should say that, when you’re thinking about selling, not every membership site needs an elaborate sales process. Many of our successful Mighty Networks have grown with very few traditional marketing or sales funnels. Instead, they grow because of their clear value propositions and fantastic word-of-mouth advertising from existing members.
But here are some of the tools at your disposal for selling memberships:
The free trial
The free trial is a tried-and-tested business solution that can work for selling memberships. You can set the length and structure of your free trial as you set up your plans on Mighty Networks. Free trials come with some advantages, most of all that they let your potential members see what you are selling before they commit. It's often much easier to sell once people have tried something than to attempt to get people to pull out their credit cards without having seen the product.
But the free trial approach comes with some downsides. First of all, if you are running a membership community, you know that it runs on relationships and trust. If you have a revolving door of people coming and going, it's almost impossible for your community to do what it does best: form strong relationships. This means that, if you are going to offer a free trial, it's probably better to keep it short.
The second challenge with free trials is that you don't get the single best benefit of a paying member: their commitment. When members commit to a community by pulling out their wallets, it means they have some skin in the game. When people come in for free, they don't. And often people don’t benefit from a free trial as much, because they don’t care as much as they would if they’d paid.
All this is not to say you shouldn't offer free trials. But do it carefully, and revisit whether it's working on a regular basis.
Webinars are probably the biggest game in town when it comes to selling products online. The reason is, you can deliver a lot of value in a webinar, and customers get to see you and your presentation skills. This is way better than reading about you and your company on a sales page.
If you can give value in a webinar, potential members will see that you are the person who can solve their problems, and some of them may join.
Another tool you have at your disposal is the bundle. This is where people pay for multiple things and get a membership with it. One common example is a high-ticket course. Many course creators also offer membership in the community as a perk for those who take the course, and it gives them a chance to help people answer any questions they have and give them a community to make sure they follow through on the course material.
However you choose to set up your sales, you will need to find a way to not only get in front of people but to help complete their journey to becoming a member of your community.
With Mighty Networks, we give you lots of tools to work with, from creating bundles, different plans, and easy purchase options in your home currency.
We hope this guide has given you a great start in understanding how to sell memberships online. One thing you must remember above all is that there is no one-size-fits-all option for selling memberships. You will need to try some things and find out what works for you and your audience. Don't be afraid to adapt as you go, and don't be afraid to throw out what isn't working.
And if you want an amazing place to build your membership community, come try it out for free-no credit card required.