(A version of this article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse. We've added a few more Mightybell specifics around how to set up member subscriptions in this version.)
A feature that makes a niche network a particularly valuable type of community – and sets it apart from a blog, Facebook group, Slack team or email newsletter – is the ability to quickly launch member subscriptions, with no technical knowhow needed. Not only is the process for setting up paid memberships simple, choosing to turn them on can unlock a world of possibilities for what you and your members can create together. Why? Paid member subscriptions are the fastest way to generate the resources you need to re-invest and grow the impact of the awesome work that you do.
Your idea is valuable right now – why not charge for membership?
Paid memberships operate on a single assumption: your unique idea or expertise can bring people together not just to build an audience, but to meet and build relationships with each other.
Across hundreds of thousands of niche networks, we’ve seen the same story play out: your members are as excited to meet each each other in the context of your idea, brand or product mission as they are to listen to you.
This isn’t that surprising. Think about conferences. Do people attend events just to listen to panels that will be posted online in a few days or to meet other attendees in the lobby? (Hint: the other attendees in the lobby)
A niche network offers an even better opportunity for meeting people because it is always-on (and in your pocket). Plus, when you ask people to pay monthly or annually for access, you set a precedent that you’re building something exclusive and important. Member interactions, rich content, guest speakers, live and virtual events, messaging and the opportunity to crowdsource practical ideas from peers will help each paying member reach their goals faster than paywalled content or a day-long event alone.
A better analogy for a niche network with member subscriptions is a country club. There are ongoing benefits to being part of the club (access to the tennis courts, restaurants, special events and — most importantly — other members) and, for these benefits, you agree to pay a small fee to fund the staff, facilities and members-only Friday night steak dinners. The lifetime value of a country club member is orders of magnitude greater than a ticket sale.
The same is true for your niche network. As long as your members are motivated to join, you’re primed and ready to turn on paid member subscriptions right from the start.
Members subscriptions aren’t just for the big guys anymore.
So, what do member subscriptions look like today in the real world?
Members who pay to be part of the World Future Society have access to an exclusive app where they can meet other professionals in science and academia, tackle common challenges together and get early access to upcoming conferences and events.
Skillcrush builds the price of access to their exclusive class communities into the cost of their Career Blueprints. Their programs have 5-10x higher completion rates compared to a typical online class. Why? Members benefit from the added value of having a supportive community of other students and TAs where they can get answers immediately and share their successes in real-time.
Gabby Bernstein brings together people who want to be inspired with her Miracle Membership, which includes a monthly email drop of an exclusive podcast, mantra and other bonus material.
In 2014, Slate Magazine — which until then was a small online magazine featuring commentary on current events and political news — launched Slate Plus, a membership community where readers could get access to insider content, commentary and media. In its first year, 9,000 readers paid $50 per year – $450,000 in total – for access.
These are just a small taste of what’s possible with member subscriptions. There are examples everywhere.
What will members pay for?
As you start to put together what to include in your member subscriptions, think about:
- Relationships with other members they can’t easily meet elsewhere (this is your most valuable role as the organizer)
- Exclusive member-only events and in-person meetups
- Classes, trainings or programs with accountability and access to the instructors or TAs
- Premium content, videos or resources (with accompanying member conversations and events)
- Support for a project or idea members are passionate about
The common thread across each of these examples is something they can can’t get from reading a blog or subscribing to a newsletter: the opportunity to meet and learn from people motivated by the same....
How much can you make from subscriptions?
The next obvious question is, “how much can I *really* make from member subscriptions?” The answer depends on two questions:
Are your members CEOs or college students? Who are your members, how many of them are there and how much can they pay? (# of members x $ per member per month or year = total revenue)
For example, if your network serves CEOs who want to stay ahead of trends in technology, they are a small, exclusive bunch. Yet, they have money to spend and want to meet each other. They probably don’t blink an eye paying $3,000 or more to attend an industry conference. So, if you had a 100 CEOs paying you $10,000/year for an always-on membership (including events or a conference) that’s $1,000,000.
On the other hand, there are millions of college students who may be motivated around a cause, but don’t have the same financial horsepower as CEOs. If you can recruit 100,000 of them and charge $10/mo to, say, join a lobbying network to address student debt, that’s $12,000,000.
How much you can make from member subscriptions depends on how many potential members you have and the value your network brings to each of them.
What will you include in your member subscriptions? How you’ll make the network valuable to paying members? Take our time-starved CEOs again. If you make it easy for them to meet other industry leaders, research trends in technology or join an off-the-record talk with other CEOs, they can trade out other one-off consultants, events or trainings for your more valuable community of peers.
As you bring in new paying members, you want to highlight:
- Exclusivity – Paid membership lets you keep your network to the most relevant and high quality members (and niche networks make sure the most relevant members can meet each other by location, topics and specialty).
- Benefits of membership and/or use of funds – What they get for their subscription: meet the most relevant members, join real-life events as well as Google Hangouts and live chats, access exclusive expertise (from you, guest speakers or other members) and fund your ability as the host to make it awesome.
By choosing a niche network with subscriptions over a blog or email newsletter, you have more to offer people than just content. You are also offering relationships with people motivated to meet each other. That’s where the magic happens.
Steal this idea.
If you’re looking for a bit of text for your invitations or posts about your Mightybell Network’s subscriptions, here’s a good outline:
We support our community with a monthly membership fee of $___ ($___ if you buy annually). This lets us keep the quality of members and value to you high.
Your contribution will be used to help our XXX-strong community grow globally, organize events and meetups, run trainings and live chats and cover our costs to ensure this community becomes your secret weapon in achieving everything you want to do.
Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line at ___________, and let us know what you want to see from the community to make it even better.
Subscriptions don’t need to be perfect to launch and learn.
The biggest misconceptions people have starting out with member subscriptions is that they have to offer a free trial upfront, get the pricing perfect at launch or offer something extremely valuable before they can start charging... Nothing is further from the truth.
Bringing together the right people, a simple refund policy and starting on the lower side of what you think you can charge over time means you can start experimenting now. Rather than a free trial, you can offer early members a “founders” discount by simply raising the price later for new members. With this type of test, you’ll know right away whether or not people will pay.
Mightybell Networks let you offer both a monthly and annual plan, giving members the flexibility to pick the right plan for their budget and needs:
- With a monthly plan, members may feel more comfortable because they don’t have to pay as much upfront. The risk is they cancel more easily. That being said, Netflix charges monthly and they don’t have much of a problem. If you are delivering value to members, they will pay.
- By choosing an annual plan, members can get a discount off the monthly plan and you get more upfront. This is how Amazon Prime rolls.
That’s it. With no coding required, you can start experimenting with member subscriptions today. It’s another way a niche network is your best bet for building an online business in 2016.
Setting up member subscriptions is easy.
If you’re not quite ready to turn on subscriptions, check out our Community Planning Guide for a step-by-step guide to setting up a successful niche network, one for which members will happily pay.
To enable member subscriptions, go to the Subscriptions tab in your Mightybell Network’s Host Dashboard. Then, make sure your Mightybell Network is upgraded to either the Indie or Professional plans.
From there, the instructions will be pretty clear. You’ll set up your Stripe account (our 3rd party credit card processor) and choose a monthly plan for your members. You can also choose to add an optional annual plan, which is typically a discount on the monthly subscription.
Right now, there isn’t a way to offer a free trial or have different prices for different types of members. For a first experiment, most of our Hosts have found that neither is a requirement. The good news is the faster you can start experimenting with what your members will pay, the better business you’ll build today and over the long haul.