If you’re interested in making money online, then it’s probably because you like the idea of having more freedom to live and work wherever and however you want. The benefits of working online are many and varied and extend into every aspect of your life.
But in order for you to make the very most from this way of working, you also need to make sure you choose the perfect business model. Working online on its own does not necessarily equate to an ideal lifestyle; rather the benefits come when you work online in the right way. And let me tell you: creating a membership site is definitely the right way.
Working online is easy. If you are in a job that’s fairly flexible, then you should be able to ask your employer if you can work from home and simply log into the company’s network whenever you start working. And sure, this will bring some benefits: you’ll be able to stay in bed longer and stop commuting and you’ll have the luxury of being able to drink tea, listen to music and generally create a comfortable environment.
But you’re still ultimately a slave to your job. You’re still trading ‘time for hours’ and you’ll still need to be available for the hours between 9am-5pm. You’ll probably also need to be near the phone and you’ll be expected to output a certain amount of work every day. That means you probably can’t leave the house and work outdoors in case you lose your internet connection. And it means you can decide to stop working for the day and visit a friend instead. Worst of all, you can still be ‘told off’ by your boss – reprimanded like a child!
The same goes for creating your own online business. If you’re a web designer for example, then you have the freedom to decide when you work on projects. But you probably still have deadlines and to all extents and purposes your clients are your bosses. If you fail to complete
This is why so many people find the idea of blogging desirable. All you have to do is to create and manage a website that you hopefully find fascinating and really enjoy writing about. You’ll get to experience a lot of the satisfaction that comes from running your own business. And you get passive income, meaning that you’ll earn money while you sleep.
But even this isn’t perfect. Because one day, you might earn $200 and the next day you might earn $10.
It only takes a change to Google’s search algorithm and you can lose all of your progress. What’s more, is that it takes actually a huge amount of time to build up the amount of traffic that you need to make a big profit from a blog. This is especially true if you are planning to use pay-per-click advertising but it’s equally the case if you are selling your own product.
Think about it: how often do you click ads on other websites? This is why it typically takes 1K visitors for you to generate just one or two clicks and the same goes for sales of products. It’s a huge amount of work before you start earning anything and there’s no guarantee it will ever get to the point where it can provide a livable salary.
Enter: Recurring, Passive Income
This is where subscription sites come in and offer an incredibly appealing alternative. Essentially, a subscription site is a site that users pay to subscribe to. This normally works by first enticing the reader with some free content and showing them the kind of entertainment/information/value that you’re capable of providing. Once they’re hooked, you then make sure they know that they need to subscribe in order to gain access to your very best content and to get frequently updated.
So what’s so different about this? Well for starters, it means that you can much more easily convert visitors to paying customers seeing as they’re not having to put down a large amount of money and seeing as they know what they’re getting right away.
More importantly though, it means that the money is recurring and much more predictable. Unlike a regular blog that can very much fluctuate, having subscribers means you probably have some kind of agreement or standing order set up. This means that you can practically guarantee that you’ll be able to earn a set amount of money each week, month or quarter.
And that very quickly starts to add up…
So say you currently have people subscribing for $5 a month. If your content is good, then you could realistically convince one in every 1-10,000 people to sign up. But it’s very possible the very first person who visits might sign up! There’s an element of luck but as soon as you get that first subscription you’re in business – and $5 a month quickly adds up to $60 a year.
Eventually, you can work whenever you like and add as much content as you like (we’ll look at how later on) and still know for sure that you’ll be able to earn X amount of money per month and per year. This is very much living the dream – all the freedom of passive incomes but with all the security of a well-paid job!
Can people unsubscribe? Sure they can! But the likelihood of everyone unsubscribing all at once is incredibly slim and in most cases you’ll have more new visitors signing up than old visitors leaving.
The Membership Business Model
So now you have a good idea of what a membership site is, let’s look a little deeper into the nitty gritty of how all this works.
No doubt you’re probably already familiar with the idea of a blog. Chances are that you have several blogs that you already read regularly and enjoy. Maybe you like reading IGN to get news about games, films and comics.
Perhaps you prefer the more highbrow content over at Forbes. Perhaps you love learning about passive income at Smart Passive Income or maybe you have an Android phone and like to stay up to date with news and apps from Android Authority.
Tim Ferriss has an excellent blog about lifestyle design (which is very much relevant to this topic!) and The Art of Manliness and Brain Pickings are great if you want some thoughtful posts that go really in-depth. For fitness, be sure to check out Breaking Muscle or Bodybuilding.com.
Whatever your chosen blog is, chances are that you love getting news from it or reading the latest feature/entertainment piece. You probably read it with your morning coffee.
But now imagine that this site stopped being free and you suddenly had to pay in order to access it. That would be a pain but if you really loved the site enough or if you relied on it, then you would probably be willing to part with some cash.
This is precisely how a subscription site works – it gets you hooked and then charges you in order to gain fuller access. In some cases, that means that you can’t read anything until you have membership. In other cases, it means that you can read some stories but need to pay in order to gain unbridled access to the most ‘exclusive’ content.
Either way, the objective is that you have something very desirable behind a pay wall.
How to get there
So how do we build ourselves to this point? Firstly, you of course need to have a website and this needs to be something that people want to read and that has a desirable value proposition.
You’ll build this up just as you would any other blog. So that means you need to pick your niche, being careful to choose something that is a popular niche but not a completely saturated market.
At the same time, you need to think about the kind of niche that people are willing to spend money on.
Put it this way: people will pay $1,000 for a course on how to make money online, how to get better at dating or how to become fit and healthy. But they won’t pay that for a course on sewing… Keep this in mind but also try to be original so that you have a USP and so that you can find markets that haven’t already been swamped with content.
More than ever, it is important here to focus on providing value for your visitors and creating content that people will want to read. So that means not trying to sell anything and not just trying to rank with generic content. It means thinking about the long term by building that trust and that loyalty.
That means thinking about what your visitors take from the content and making sure that each time they read anything you publish, they come away feeling inspired or entertained and with lots of good ideas and/or useful information that they can employ.
You have to find new angles and interesting ideas and make sure that your audience are consistently excited to see what comes next. If you can manage that, then you’ll steadily build an audience that relies on your content.
Now you need to promote that blog like you would any other. That means building links, posting to social media and ideally building a mailing list as well. Build that following on the strength of the content and make sure you have a strong brand to push it.
Now you have two options:
- Suddenly introduce a pay wall so that all your content is off-limits and they have to pay to access it.
- Gradually create your pay wall and fill it with more and more enticing content – using your other content to promote the paid content. This is the easier (and recommended) of the two methods.
You can also use other things to entice your readers – which might mean offering an ebook, offering a community (in fact this is very important) or even introducing some kind of ‘software as a service’.
Types of Membership Site
Before you create your site though, let’s rewind a moment and consider what your options are and what types of membership sites are out there for you to try and emulate. You might be surprised to find that there are multiple different types, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Membership Blogs/Content Sites
The first option is to create a blog or maybe a news site and to make this into a membership site. The general idea here is that you’re creating lots of fresh content that people will very much want to read.
You’re then charging people for the privilege of gaining access to all your new content as you create it and in that way it will work a little like a magazine subscription or a newspaper subscription.
You can even turn this into an ‘ezine’ which means you’ll update all the content at once about once a month, often in an attractive format, saved as a PDF and with lots of attractive images and additional media.
Sometimes these kinds of membership sites are referred to as ‘content mills’ as you’re constantly churning out more and more content. However, there are ways that you can make this more manageable – for example by hiring someone to create the content for you!
The Evergreen Membership Site
This is basically a site that is filled with tons of content and perhaps other types of media. You might have ebooks, blog posts, podcasts, videos and more – and all of this will together offer value to the reader.
The great thing about this, is that once you’ve reached a certain level, you won’t actually have to update the content any more at all! That is to say that there’s enough benefit to being a member here, enough content to sift through, that you won’t need to keep creating more.
This can essentially be considered the ‘end goal’ for many membership sites, though in some cases you can come straight out of the gate with this type of offer – especially if you have lots of old content from previous businesses.
This is the truest type of ‘passive income’ that there is. That’s because you’re actually not going to have to do any work in order to keep getting new customers and to keep getting recurring revenue from those who have already signed up.
Sure, there may be a little maintenance and yes, you may want to advertise and promote your package more. But for the most part, this is can provide its own momentum and grow in revenue while you do very little!
Software as a Service
While this isn’t traditionally considered a membership site, it is essentially the exact same thing. This basically means that you’ll be offering some kind of service via a web app and sometimes this can straddle the line between content and service.
For example, let’s say that you created a website that provided lots of markets in a particular niche. Maybe this is a website that, for example, found websites that were looking for writers.
If your blog collated these, then this would be a great service to provide for writers and that way you could charge people to use your site. This could easily straddle the line between a ‘service’ and content.
Slightly closer to the service side of things meanwhile might be a site that helped people to learn to meditate through guided meditation (just like the Headspace app) or maybe some kind of set of online calculators.
Another option is to create a set of courses and learning materials that people can subscribe to. This is an excellent option as you are providing a very clear and obvious ‘value proposition’ and you have a very obvious target audience to market your site to. At the same time, people are used to paying for education and in theory this should offer real value in return by helping them to get a certain job or acquire a certain skill.
In order to create a membership site with courses, you will need to fill it with raw materials like videos, textbooks and courses but this can then be fairly ‘evergreen’. It’s also possible to create this kind of content using a mailing list via an autoresponder.
The Community Site
One of the best things you can do to create a membership site that thrives is to build a community. In other words, have a central topic that people can discuss and then provide a ‘members’ only’ area for people who have paid.
This is a brilliant strategy for numerous reasons:
- The social element is very compelling. People love feeling like a ‘part’ of something and they love having privileged access. If you speak about this in the right way, you can make it very desirable.
- Communities create their own content! This means that once you have built it up to be big enough, the rest will take care of itself. The site will climb the search engines because it will keep getting new content added and people will even promote and share the site for you. You have to moderate but again, this means making money while doing very little!
Of course in many cases, your membership site is not going to fall into just one of these categories. In all likelihood, a community site is still going to have a blog if only to bring in new visitors and to clearly define what your site is about.
Likewise, if you have an evergreen site then you can make the prospect of signing up a little sweeter by also introducing some additional free materials that make it closer to a service: that might mean that you have calculators or just the odd video.
What’s more is that most types of membership site will at least start out as content mills. This is the easiest way to get people interested and to start building up your audience.
Alternatives to Websites
Note that there are also several alternative methods to creating membership content which we touched on briefly in the introduction. Some of the top examples include:
YouTube now has the option to create members-only content. This means that you can create a large list of free subscribers and then charge a little extra for your very best premium content. This works particularly well as videos give you the chance to create a real sense of rapport with your audience and YouTube can handle the route to market and even the payment processing for you.
Another great example is to create a mobile app that charges a subscription fee. This is something that’s actually becoming increasingly popular and it’s a great way to get around some of the challenges that face mobile app developers when trying to monetize their products through other means.
As briefly mentioned, a mailing list can also be a subscription service. This works particularly well if you are creating some kind of course that lends itself well to being split into ‘lessons’.
Essentially, a membership site is simply the natural evolution of a magazine. It stands to reason then that you might combine the two by having a magazine with a website component.
Likewise, you can also create a subscription service that provides some kind of physical products from a website. This might mean a curated selection of items that will appear to a particular type of person, or it might mean supplies/consumables such as clothing, food or shaving products.
This is branching out from digital-only models that most people lean to but actually it’s surprisingly not that much of a stretch to offer some kind of ‘goodie bag’ or physical incentive to make your subscription service more appealing.
You can do this by drop shipping or simply by buying items in bulk very cheaply. This can also be achieved through some kind of partnership, in which case you’ll be promoting the product to a wider audience in exchange for getting some inventory to give away for free.
One last one: prize drawer! Simply enter all your members into a prize drawer and sell the opportunity to win money or some other kind of appealing prize.
And remember: you don’t have to pick just one of these options. Think about the resources available to you and what you’re good at and then include as many incentives as you can while having a clear value proposition and clear target audience.