Add a Subscription Income to Your Business

When you’re trying to monetize your expertise, one of the best business assets you can build is a subscription-based service, typically for a membership site, an online course or a monthly fee to use a particular service, e.g. hosting, software, access to premium content. Subscription businesses build passive income streams; they take the pressure off you to bill a certain number of hours each month; and they help build your audience of prospective customers.

Why and how to launch a subscription income as part of your business

  1. The subscription model is perfect for information-based businesses. As an expert trying to monetize your know-how, the subscription model is made for you. You can apply it to:
    – Online courses (e.g. coding tutorials; Photoshop tutorials; event management training course etc.);
    – Access to valuable information (e.g. access to database of recruitment candidates);
    – Access to software. (e.g. Aweber charges a monthly fee to use its email marketing software)
    – Podcasts, webinars, video channels
  2. Automation. A subscription-based business has a very high level of automation. Depending on the type of service you’re offering, e.g. access to valuable information or software, it can be automated entirely. If you’re offering a course, you will have to produce fresh content/new courses to keep your members engaged.
  3. Stable cashflow. Selling your time is an unpredictable cycle of feast-or-famine. Having a subscription model means smoothing out those erratic peaks and troughs. A stable, automated income coming your way every month/week is a great stress-reliever and it gives you a financial buffer and frees your time to explore other income-generation options.
  4. A proven model. The subscription model is an accepted online business model. For example, for the past couple of years, the sales of DVDs have gone down tremendously, whereas Netflix’s revenue figures continue to grow. This is due to the changing needs of consumers – they prefer to pay low prices for the wide range of content that Netflix has on offer per month, rather than pay a higher price for a boxset. Netflix’s subscription model is a great success. Having a subscription model could help you do the same thing.
  5. Opportunities for customer interaction. Think back to your school days. The relationships you built then were largely because you interacted with these people on a daily basis. Similarly, a subscription business allows you frequent interaction with your audience. This inevitably builds relationships, trust and bonds that one-off transactions can’t compete with. Your subscription business provides a lot more opportunities for two-way conversation and fosters community. Successful subscription sites are a great place to share feedback, listen and uncover new product ideas. Providing customers with opportunities to tell you the good and the bad, and about what they do and don’t want from you, will help you formulate a plan for catering to their needs and desires. It allows them to share their problems with you, and you can work on solutions and then on personalized offers. Productive relationships like that lead to customer satisfaction; a growing audience through word-of-mouth and increased revenue.
  6. Opportunities to build partnerships and joint ventures. Having a subscription model in place not only helps you build customer relationships, but also develop connections with influencers and fellow industry professionals. You can collaborate with other experts (who may have their own online communities) to develop products for your respective audiences. A successful subscription business is proof that you have an engaged audience and that is an attractive proposition to expert online marketers. It’s one of the reasons why you’ll often see experts grow their businesses at extraordinary rates in this business: it’s through partnering with other experts to promote each others products and leverage each other’s audiences. Success breeds success.
  7. More potential for growth. Netflix and Amazon, among other large international companies, have experienced tremendous growth in recent years due to their subscription models. The benefits that the model offers their customers are unique and genuinely solve customers’ problems, which is why clients remain members. When you design your subscription model, you need to ensure it includes unique benefits that your customers would have a hard time getting elsewhere. These benefits are going to be the primary reasons for membership retention; increasing your audience numbers and therefore profits. The benefit can be your products themselves but they can also be intangibles such as a sense of community, connecting with like-minded members and perhaps even collaborating on projects.
  8. The tools are readily available. Building an online subscription-based business can seem daunting, however, the mechanics powering a subscription website is little more than content hidden behind a payment wall accessible only to members who pay a repeating access fee. The great news is that there are many excellent and affordable solutions on the market that let you create such a mechanism in minutes. If your site is built with WordPress site, you can create a subscription-based business from as little as $50. Solutions include Membership 2 Pro, Wishlist Member, Memberwing X, Rainmaker Platform, the list goes on. (We counted 30 solutions without too much trouble). Google “WordPress subscription plugin” and find a solution you feel comfortable with.  Good solutions will handle all the technical aspects of running a subscription business for you: taking repeat payment; protecting content from non-members; multi-level memberships; digital downloads and so on.

Takeaway points

  1. If you create online courses; offer valuable information or offer a valuable software service, consider creating a subscription-based business or module.
  2. Can you provide enough fresh content/ongoing value to justify a repeat subscription fee?
  3. Subscription-businesses are a great way to build loyalty and a professional relationship with your audience.

Action steps

  1. If you’re struggling to think of content for your subscription business, ask yourself what information would you normally charge for? What part of your service can you turn into a product?
  2. Not all subscriptions have to run indefinitely (and often it’s not realistic). It’s OK to have a finishing line so don’t let the thought of not having “infinite” content put you off. A good subscription business to kick-off with is an online course.
  3. Build your well before you’re thirsty: start building an email list of potential customers for your subscription business.

Photo credit: Triplesense Reply via / CC BY 2.0

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