How to sell online memberships: all you need to know

Why Now Is The Time To Sell Memberships Online

I know this stuff, skip!

Selling video memberships online is a tried and true way to make more money, retain more customers, and create a stable income.

Online memberships are becoming a popular way for creators to make money online and enjoy the freedom to work, learn, and live how they want. Online memberships are a form of online business where you offer valuable content and a private community to your subscribers for a recurring fee.

Online memberships are not only a great source of income, but also a way to build a loyal fan base, grow your brand, and share your passion with others. Online memberships are one of the pillars of the Creator Economy, along with products and courses.

Now creators and businesses are catching up to the reality that offering online memberships is often the fastest and easiest on-ramp to the Creator Economy.

Memberships create recurring, predictable, and passive income with the potential to compound over time.

Many smart and savvy creators understand one effective way to successfully sell digital products online is to start by selling information-rich newsletters and services in the form of a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual subscription-based membership. Doing so, they repeatedly deliver value to their customers.

This creates a tight feedback loop with them, allowing them to refine their offerings and pivot to what works best. This approach is simple and elegant for the customer, and powerful for the creator.

In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know about online memberships, including:

  • What is an online membership and how does it work?
  • Why should you sell online memberships?
  • What are some online membership ideas that sell?
  • Choosing the Best Platform to Sell Online Memberships
  • How to create and manage a membership community?
  • What are some tips and best practices for selling online memberships?
  • What are some challenges and drawbacks of selling online memberships?

What is an Online Membership and How Does It Work?

An online membership is a type of online business where you offer exclusive access to your content and community to your subscribers for a recurring fee. Your content can be anything from newsletters and podcasts to videos and ebooks. Your community can be a place where your subscribers can interact with you and each other, ask questions, share feedback, and get support.

An online membership works like this: You create a membership site where you host your content and community. You set up a payment system where your subscribers can sign up and pay for your membership. You deliver new content and engage with your community on a regular basis. You retain your existing subscribers and attract new ones by providing value and solving their problems.

Why Should You Sell Online Memberships?

Selling online memberships has many benefits for creators, such as:

  • Recurring revenue: Online memberships generate consistent and predictable income every month. You don’t have to worry about cash flow issues or finding new customers. You can also offer annual memberships and get paid upfront.
  • Scalability: Online memberships are scalable and can grow with your audience. You can create more content and offer more value to your subscribers without increasing your workload or expenses. You can also leverage automation and outsourcing to streamline your operations.
  • Loyalty: Online memberships help you build a loyal and engaged fan base. Your subscribers are more likely to trust you, support you, and recommend you to others. You can also get valuable feedback and insights from your community to improve your content and offerings.
  • Passion: Online memberships allow you to share your passion and expertise with others who share your interests. You can create content and community around topics that you love and enjoy. You can also learn from your subscribers and grow as a creator.

Ideas for Online Memberships that Work

You can sell almost any kind of product or service through an online membership/subscription model. The only real limit is your imagination. Here are a few case studies to help inspire you.

1. Digital publications

Digital publications are one way to share your expertise with the rest of the world. Instead of trying to sell a publication one at a time, you can use a membership model to provide access to your readers as soon as you publish it on an ongoing basis.

Selling digital publications through memberships may be the best option for you if you can capitalize on people's desire for knowledge in an area where you have a lot of experience.

Some creators choose to offer memberships in the form of a course. David perell presents “Write of Passage,” a course designed to help aspiring writers to write online & unleash the full power of the Internet.

2. Consultancy services

If you are an authority in your field then you can create a business around selling content to people who want to learn your skills.

For example, if you are an expert digital marketer you can sell content to aspiring marketers, sole traders, and small businesses about how to achieve 5x growth in a month.

Although selling your content as a one-off online course could work well for you, selling an online membership will bring you that holy grail of recurring revenue.

Providing services through a membership can be surprisingly simple. Hitesh Choudhary, the creator of Learn Code Online, sells a monthly, semi-annual, and annual membership to gain access to the Courses.

3. Access to a community or forum

Many creators foster valuable and focused communities on Pensil, Facebook, Circle, Discord, Slack, and other platforms. While it’s not easy to build and maintain a community, the rewards are manifold.

Fitting your membership into a community model will result in loyal customers who will expect and happily pay for quality. Your customers will also pay to connect with other members. They’ll create lasting relationships inside your community and their lifetime value will increase.

Selling access to communities and forums is an intense commitment, but it’s become popular and effective:

  • is a community for freelancers, where they can share their experiences, challenges, and opportunities
  • Grič CyptoTap is a cryptocurrency community that aims to educate and empower people about the blockchain technology. They use Pensil to host live sessions, Q&A, and discussions about various crypto topics
  • Somaiya Design School is an institute that offers courses in design and innovation. They use Pensil for internal communication and academics among their students and faculty

Waiting lists, hooks and email

Build your waiting list. That’s really a good starting point. If you have nothing, just put up a waiting list, put an opt-in. If you’ve got something, think about how you can collect email addresses.

Think about your hook. How can you stand out? David Perell has a few little hooks out there. He’s got his Work Less Make More challenge. He’s got a free book. He’s got small courses, endless podcasts, and a truckload of little videos. And take note, some of his videos get only 36 or 50 views. It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t compare to some of his students who have 360,000 YouTube views, or 800,000 YouTube subscribers.

It’s amazing what you can do off a small list of the right people when you resonate with them. So you don’t have to be a personality, you don’t have to be big and famous. You just have to be relevant.

Give them a taste of what’s inside

James has been known to coach people via email before they join SuperFastBusiness, just to show that he can help them. He’ll ask what’s going on with their business, provide solutions, tell them what to do next. They want more. He tells them they can get it inside the membership.

The risk is gone. The trust is sky-high. Prospects know James answers his emails, and they’ve already gotten help without paying a cent.

You can also publish some of your insider material for public consumption. If you already have a membership going, take snippets or demos from inside and publish them outside your paywall.

Or do what some paywall news agencies do – whet the appetite with a few stories on their site before having them subscribe to see more.

Choosing the Best Platform to Sell Online Memberships

You already know what online memberships are and how they can benefit you. Now let’s talk about how to pick the right platform to create and sell them.

You don’t have to hire a team of developers to make your own platform from scratch (unless you want to) because there are many platforms that you can use out of the box.

When looking for the best platform for your needs, look for one that offers:

  • Easy setup and customization
  • Secure payment processing and subscription management
  • Flexible content delivery and access control
  • Analytics and reporting tools
  • Integration with other tools and services

Pensil has all these features and more. It also lets you set up fixed-length subscriptions (e.g. a 3-month course) or recurring memberships.

Plus, you can check out all the features on Pensil for yourself to see what it can do for you

Platforms to Host your Memberships

There are so many platforms you can use to host your membership.

If it’s not a newsletter membership, it’s often a community membership.

Here are 5 popular platforms to consider:

  • Pensil
  • Thinkfic
  • Kajabi
  • Teachable
  • Circle

Tips for Membership Selling Success

Now that you know what membership sites are and why to sell them, here are a few tips on how these ideas can turn into revenue.

We recommend Pensil for it’s powerful mix of features. This one plugin can handle both membership sites and online courses.

Here are some key features of Pensil :

  • Easy Setup: create login, pricing, accounts, and thank you pages for your members
  • Membership levels or subscription plans: offer different options and prices for your members
  • Controlled access to content: protect any type of content including pages, posts, categories, tags, files, and more.
  • Content Dripping: release protected content on a schedule, perfect for online courses and e-learning
  • Sell Courses: create and sell online courses with full learning management system (LMS) features
  • Email integrations: connect with MailChimp email marketing platforms
  • Accept Payments: accept payments from Stripe and PayPal payment gateways

Tiered Pricing Structure

Many successful membership communities offer different pricing options and plans, such as monthly, quarterly, annual, and lifetime access. A different pricing structure can suit members with different levels of budget and commitment.

This also allows members at lower prices to upgrade later on if they see more value by moving up their membership level.

You can also offer limited access to your content (for example, split it into “Basic” and “Premium” sections), with the higher price including everything in your membership offer plus extras.

Doing competitor research to compare services and prices can help you stand out.

More importantly, if it is valuable, people will pay for it.

Introduce an Annual Membership

The concept of annual memberships proves to be a lucrative avenue for swiftly generating substantial revenue. This approach is especially appealing to creators seeking to reinvest profits back into their products. A strategic way to promote annual memberships involves:

  1. Offering a limited number of annual memberships, thereby creating a sense of urgency.
  2. Providing exclusive content to members with annual subscriptions.

This approach accommodates customers who prefer to make upfront payments rather than dealing with additional monthly bills.

Emphasize Upselling Opportunities

Upon securing memberships, there arises a valuable opportunity to upsell. The focus here isn't solely on increasing profits, but on delivering enhanced value to existing members. Recognizing that some members perpetually seek more, it becomes your responsibility to satisfy their desires by introducing additional features, albeit at an extra cost. This approach effectively boosts your recurring monthly income without the need to acquire additional customers.

Customers are willing to invest more if their concerns are addressed and they receive valuable content.

Leverage 'Freemium' to Your Advantage

Concentrate on Conversion Optimization

Successfully selling a membership hinges on persuading individuals about the benefits of joining a community or gaining access to exclusive content. Since potential consumers may be unaware of the value offered, the onus is on you to persuade them effectively.

Therefore, a crucial aspect is optimizing the conversion process to prevent losing potential customers for avoidable reasons. A pivotal step is creating a sales page that converts efficiently; check out our guide on creating high-converting sales pages.

Here are some strategies to enhance your conversion rate:

  1. Provide customers with a preview of the course or membership, offering insights into the quality they can expect.
  2. Simplify the subscription cancellation process, emphasizing flexibility and no lock-in periods.
  3. Offer discounted rates or free trials to showcase added value for quick decision-making.
  4. Introduce sign-up incentives, such as bonus content, extra membership months, referral bonuses, or promotional codes.

Make the Value of Subscribing Clear

It's easy to talk about what your membership is about, but the main focus should be on what members will receive.

What issue will it address?

How will it benefit them?

What difference will it make in their lives?

Focus on value, particularly the benefit of becoming a member, and everything else will fall into place.

Ready to set up your membership?

Here’s how to launch a Pensil membership today.

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