From time to time I receive an email that goes like this:
Hi Vic, I want to start a membership site. Can you advise me on how to do it?
At which point I reply, “sure, just send $1000 to my Paypal ASAP and I’ll give you the magic formula…mwahahaha!” Kidding, of course. If I had a magic formula, I’d charge a heck of a lot more than $1000 for it!
Anyway, by this point, I’ll assume that you already have some idea of which niche you’d like to operate in, and that you just need a bit of direction in terms of which model of recurring income will work best.
Here is a short breakdown of 7 proven membership models to better inform your plan of action.
1. The Training Course Model
When you think of a membership site, you probably think of some kind of training course that you go through inside of a protected member’s area. The training might feature video content, audio content, PDFs, articles, and various downloads.
It might be available all at once, or it may “drip”, revealing new content over the course of time. And the training may or may not have some kind of community component to it that’s meant to foster discussion and accountability for members.
This community component could be a forum, weekly group coaching calls, group webinars, or even something as simple as enabling comments on the training pages so that members can engage with each other and the course creator.
This is the most popular variety of membership site I see in my work with clients, and I typically receive several inquiries a week to set up a training style site.
You can set up a site like this using WordPress fairly easily. Or you can use a hosted, “done for you” platform like Udemy or Fedora where you simply upload your training materials and the platform handles all the technical mumbo jumbo.
Real life examples of this membership model:
- iPhone Video Hero (a training course on how to make professional quality vids using just your iPhone)
- 6 Figure Lifestyle Business (a training course on creating a 6-figure lifestyle business by selling a combination of physical and digital products)
2. The PLR Model
Another great membership site model is what I call the PLR approach, named after sites that sell PLR content. (PLR means Private Label Rights).
For example, you can join a PLR site that releases content for the seduction niche. Let’s say they release 25 new, high quality articles a month on how to be suave, charming and persuasive with the ladies (or the fellas). Then the members of this site – who have their own sites or lists in the seduction niche – can then use these articles in any way they want, whether that’s posting them on their blog, making an eBook out of the articles, or using them for email copy, etc.
The membership capacity for these sites is usually capped at a fixed number of people to prevent the content from being overused and losing its value.
In addition to niche-specific PLR sites, many PLR vendors run more general PLR stores which cater to a wide variety of niches and offer limited numbers of PLR packs for sale á la carte. Of course, you don’t have to sell PLR per se to make use of this business model.
You can sell, say, credits that members can cash in for services. A service I used to use a lot back in my SEO days called SocialAdr does exactly that. You buy credits and then redeem them for social media shares for your content.
If you think outside the box, you can probably come up with all sorts of creative variations on this membership site model.
3. Productized Consulting
Productized consulting is a great business model for earning recurring revenue. It isn’t a membership site in the way you normally think about a membership site. But recurring revenue is recurring revenue!
I’ll tell you the truth, I’m biased toward this model because my unlimited membership site support service, MemberFix, is a quintessential example of a productized service.
Let’s face it: it’s hard to sell webinars, trainings, eBooks, and other digital, so-called “passive” products. It’s waaay easier to sell some kind of in-demand service, especially if you’ve already been offering that service on an hourly or per-project basis.
In the course of my consulting work – setting up membership sites – I often found myself doing a lot of minor support tasks for clients long after a project ended. Doing support this way isn’t particularly fruitful, and it’s very time consuming because jumping from task to task carries a high cognitive switching penalty. But of course, I couldn’t very well just stop providing support for folks whose sites I set up.
So then, inspired by Dan Norris’s awesome book The 7 Day Startup, I put together a landing page for my unlimited membership site support service, MemberFix, and emailed everybody I could about it.
The results have been phenomenal. It has, for the most part, allowed me to stop the feast and famine cycle of consulting work. It’s given me the peace of mind of knowing that a recurring payment is probably coming in month after month (if I can manage to retain members to a reasonable degree), and I don’t have to chase down clients to remind them to pay me, nor deal with disputes about trivial details on an invoice.
Basically, it’s given me the freedom to focus all my energy on making sure that my current, paying clients are happy and taken care of.
Last but not least, starting a productized service has enabled me to be able to say ‘no’ when I feel like it. That rules!
As I wrote in my book, selling a service online is the fastest, most proven way to make money online if you’re just starting out. And productizing that service is perhaps the best way to stabilize your income and grow a real business.
4. Monthly Interview Series
One simple way to add a continuity to your product line or service offers is to create an interview series in which you interview an expert in your field monthly and release the audio and/or video recording to your paying members.
This is such a simple strategy…but simple works! Take, for example, the dating advice guru David DeAngelo. He sells a monthly interview series as an upsell to his flagship products. This interview series is called “Interviews With Dating Gurus” and it features a new expert every month who comes on to the call and discusses various facets of women and dating.
By inviting various experts in this niche to provide his listeners with a fresh, outsider’s perspective on this vast topic, David DeAngelo is able to offer a lot of value relatively easily, and charge for it on a recurring basis.
You can also use this model for free via a podcast. Doings so can help to build your audience, brings value to your listeners (value that you couldn’t contribute just on your own), and gives your guests a platform to gain more exposure while having an enjoyable chat with a fellow entrepreneur. It’s win – win – win!
5. Mastermind & Group Coaching
This approach is similar to the monthly interviews series. But instead of doing a call, you hold a weekly (or monthly, or whatever) webinar/group coaching call/Q&A session. A great example of this is Video Hero VIP by Jules Watkins (who was a guest on my Membership Site Success podcast recently).
Jules hosts a weekly call with all of his VIP members, in which he invites an expert in a related subfield (say, video editing, or YouTube marketing, or video gear, etc.), and has a group training and discussion with his guest and members.
An example of a really awesome paid forum is John McIntyre’s McMasters copywriting forum. The forum includes training, case studies, progress/accountability threads and much more.
The idea is to help members improve their copywriting skills and to therefore boost sales and conversions as a result. The forum is a lively community in which you have accountability built right in. The trainings are great, but it’s the community experience that’s the really sticky part. This is what keeps members coming back again and again to interact, long after they’ve consumed the static training materials.
The trick with a paid forum is that there has to be a lot of valuable content that you won’t find by simply Googling it. And perhaps more importantly, there has to be some kind of exciting community element that justifies remaining a member and paying month after month.
7. Full-Blown Community
Building a thriving community is both one of the hardest things to do in the recurring revenue world and perhaps also one of the most rewarding, both financially and emotionally. That’s because the value you can potentially provide is very high.
As an example, I’m a member of a paid community called the Dynamite Circle, or DC for short. I pay a quarterly fee for access to the community (which is powered by Ning). It includes a forum, messaging abilities, geographic check-ins, status updates, a job board, email updates, events all year round, and some kind of ineffable, enthusiastic vibe that suffuses the community and makes smart, passionate people want to be a part of it.
Joining the DC and attending the yearly conference has been a game changer for my business. In fact, it’s where I first heard all the talk about productized services, which sowed the seeds for my MemberFix service. The quarterly fee is piddling in comparison to the tremendous business value and personal value I get from belonging to this awesome community.
Let’s be real: building a community like this is a serious undertaking. If you can do it successfully, you’ll make a big impact and probably collect a tidy little sum in the process.
Bonus Idea: Software
For you software peeps out there, it’s probably not news that you can run a very profitable continuity-based business by offering some kind of software product. Whether that comes in the shape of a WordPress plugin, a software as a service (SaaS) or some other kind of model – it matters not.
The important thing is that software is here to stay and if you’ve got coding chops, you can convert them into a sweet little side-business, or even a full blown company.
Back before Google bitch slapped all the ease out of doing SEO, a really popular app that I used was Unique Article Wizard. This app ‘spun’ articles (rewrote them using syllables and slightly-altered syntax so that they appeared unique) and submitted the spun version to various sites, thus building legit looking backlinks to your site.
I reckon the app is pretty much obsolete by now. But in its heyday it made a crapload of money for its creators.
I believe the key with any business, and this includes a software-based model, is to incorporate recurring billing into the offer right from the start. Even if that just takes the form of upgrades and support for ‘x’ dollars per year, which is a tactic many software vendors use (including OptimizePress, DAP, SimplePress and others).
This ensures that all the hard work and expense you put into acquiring a customer doesn’t result in just a measly, single sale and a business model dependent on always having to find new customers (which is much more expensive than continuing to sell to existing customers).
TL;DR – Recurring revenue doesn’t suck.