What membership site models will be the most profitable for your business? (Yes, you can combine more than one!)
It’s a question you’ll need to answer in order to create a membership site that will grow your current business. There are different types of online course sites and experiences you can create based on your strengths as a teacher, leader, and business owner.
And what your ideal customers are willing to invest in.
In short: the type of membership site model you choose can make or break your offer. And affect conversions and the long term sustainability of your site.
Before we get too far, let’s get on the same page about our definition of a membership or course website: A membership site is a place where free or paying members can log in to access their content, courses, and community.You can charge a one-time fee for access or build in a recurring revenue stream with monthly or yearly payments. This creates a steady income, no matter what types of membership you select.
In today’s post we’ll be going over 13 profitable and easy membership models that you add to your online business. Plus a few membership site examples to inspire you.
Table of Contents
- 1. The All-You-Can-Eat Education Buffet
- 2. Subscription boxes + digital membership
- 3. Discount Clubs
- 4. Online Community Membership
- 5. Paid Member Directory Listings
- 6. Group Coaching Membership Site
- 7. Done-for-you Plans and Content Site Models
- 8. Retainers for Clients
- 9. Downloadable Resource Membership Sites
- 10. Accountability Membership
- 11. Agency and Service Memberships
- 12. Internal Training Turned Into a Profit Center
- 13. Dripped Content or Online Courses
- How to Choose the Best Membership Site Model for Your Business
1. The All-You-Can-Eat Education Buffet
Think of this style of membership as the Netflix of online learning: a member joins and has access to a bunch of content from day one. It’s a library of courses that continues to grow over time to incentivize current customers to stick around and attract new clients, too.
The most important thing you can do in designing your education buffet membership is to make it easy for people to find the right course for them.
You can do that using quizzes that guide people to the right next step. Or, you can connect them with the appropriate material by offering sophisticated search functionality. Or even giving recommendations based on previous courses they’ve enjoyed.
This buffet-style membership site attracts people who want to improve themselves and their skills. They may come on board to achieve a specific goal and leave when they’ve gotten what they needed.
But if you plan out an educational roadmap then people will know where to go next after they complete their initial goal.
Many education buffets offer a wide range of topics to attract a large client base. However, when you’re just getting started, it helps to have a focused outcome in mind that appeals to a very specific audience.
Focus on getting a targeted set of courses done well, and branch out from there. You might also want to hire someone to help from a digital marketing and tech set up perspective.
Example: BrainPop‘s online learning portal for kids.
2. Subscription boxes + digital membership
You may already subscribe to successful memberships of this nature. The ones where you get something in the mail every month as part of your membership.
Subscription boxes are a membership site with a monthly fee that includes at least one physical item.
Often, the items in the box will change each month, to keep customers excited and engaged. They may be full-sized products or samples of new releases from different brands.
There are many monthly subscription services where members get curated materials delivered straight to them on a regular basis.
A great example is OrnamentGirls.com, where her subscription box business sends members a new kit to make an ornament each month.
The membership site focuses on the “how to” training that goes with the mailed item.
3. Discount Clubs
A discount club is a membership site based on the idea of giving members discounts or deals.
For example, someone might join for $50 and receive 20% off everything in an online store every day.
Or there might be different tiers where you pay more upfront to get better discounts. Promotions could be as much as 50%.
The higher your tier, the greater the percentage that will be applied to all items purchased from a storefront each month.
In general, there are two types: tiered clubs and instant savings clubs. Tiered clubs require an initiation fee up-front while Instant Savings Clubs don’t need any type of commitment at first because they work by providing customers with instant cash back after spending money.
Don’t have your own products to discount yet?
It’s also a good idea to negotiate discounts for affiliate products, if you don’t have a large catalog of products to sell.
4. Online Community Membership
The online community membership site is all about facilitating strong relationship-building among your paying members. Think of it like social media, but on your own site.
Some of the identifying features of a community-focused membership include:
- Member directory: where users can search for, and connect with, one another.
- Membership Forum: so members can easily carry on group discussions.
- Masterminds: where members receive a high level of support, feedback, and resources.
- Accountability tools: so members are empowered to follow through and achieve their goals.
This is an especially powerful type of membership site for clients who need help meeting their peers and getting the support or those who are looking for high-end resources to get ahead.
There are a number of things to think about when creating a community-focused membership site, from membership goals to mapping out the engagement interaction paths that will be available inside your membership site.
The more active, engaging, and supportive you are as the organizer, the better experience your members will have.
The best part about this type of membership is that people are more likely to stay with you as active paying members once they’ve made great connections in your community.
Example: Tara McMullen’s What Works community.
5. Paid Member Directory Listings
Paid directory listings are a great way to create an instant revenue stream for your membership website.
Think of this option as the chamber of commerce, but for your particular industry.
You can offer members the ability to list their services and products in these directories, which is useful if they’re trying to build credibility with potential clients.
Paid listing fees range from $49 per year up to as much as several hundred dollars annually depending on what options you want included and level of service (whether it’s local only, worldwide).
Once someone lists their business with you, there will be annual renewal charges that need payment each year. Different membership offers can include premium listings to have some members show up higher in the results.
You might be interested in a WordPress member directory plugin that allows members to customize their profiles, opt out of the listing, or connect with each other more easily.
6. Group Coaching Membership Site
This type of membership is often called group coaching, and it packs a lot of value for the participants.
Group coaching membership sites can be a powerful way for people to get access to the best professionals in their field.
This type of site is perfect for those who want mentors or need help navigating through life transitions from career change to family changes.
Topics can range from parenting, business development, wellness & fitness training & education, relationship advice, finance management, and creativity exploration.
There are a few different ways to offer coaching with this model:
Generally, you’d offer live office hours or coaching calls where members can show up, ask questions, get support, and accountability. You can also create opportunities for the coach or leader to keep track of participants’ progress, encouraging them if they get stuck along the way.
Ideal clients can range from busy executives and business owners to anyone who has a personal goal to achieve. In any case, the client needs help to make their goals happen (think athletes, students, language learners, etc.).
People prioritize what they care about. Committing to this type of coaching membership helps clients pursue and make their dreams a reality.
There aren’t a lot of places where you can get individual attention from someone with a lot of expertise. At least, not without breaking the bank.
This type of membership offers you and your clients the best of both worlds.
If coaching is something you love and you want to help your clients achieve their goals (without putting a cap on your earning potential), this might be for you!
Example: Erika Lyremark’s Mark’d Mastery.
7. Done-for-you Plans and Content Site Models
With a done-for-you recurring subscription program, it’s easier to bundle your work and also drip the content out over time.
If a teacher, ministry leader, or blogger needs new content each week and can simply take your material and tweak it… They’ll stay on board to save time and keep getting your new materials.
It’s a no-brainer for the right clients, and if you’re drawn to this type of membership it’s likely because you’ve BEEN your ideal client so you can create the best materials for them.
This type of membership will see you creating a lot of consistent content, so think through the best way to organize it from day one.
Offering templates, lesson plans, and other “done for you” downloads is a powerful way to scale and provide items of value to members.
Anything that saves people time is highly valued, and if you’re already seeing interest, you know that the demand is there. All that’s left is a matter of marketing it properly to get the word out.
This type of membership tends to be extremely stable, because of the recurring needs of your specific set of clientele.
If you’re already doing the work creating this type of content, and people are asking how you do it or if you ever offer it… then this might be a great type of membership site for you to offer.
Example: Lesson plans created by teachers on Education.com.
8. Retainers for Clients
The best way to describe this type of membership is a client dashboard. It can be used to facilitate the process of onboarding a new client.
Or, you might use the membership site after the services have been delivered, as a way to stay in touch with a client and offer additional training or resources.
It’s set up to communicate with your clients, retainer engagements, and other services… so you’re freed up to focus on the service itself, whether that’s interior design, copywriting, or health coaching.
You can even create a coaching portal membership site for your 1-on-1 clients.
Depending on which step of the client process your membership site will take over, you’ll want to create a map of the steps that you generally take when signing up a new client, while you’re working with them, or after you wrap up an engagement.
A huge part of this membership model depends on leveraging a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. This lets you keep track of each clients’ interactions and where they are along the process and tag them based on what point they’re at in the process (whether they have signed a contract, agreed to your terms, watched the welcome video, booked their first call, or any of other steps you generally do manually).
9. Downloadable Resource Membership Sites
This type of membership offers busy professionals a shortcut.
If you’re a creator or you have a community of creatives that can generate a lot of useful content, this is a great model.
Creative content like royalty-free music can be delivered to members on a regular basis.
Other types of resources that could be included: templates, downloadable music, videos and graphics packs, font collections, webinar slides, and course outlines.
Resources are the backbone for any successful membership site. A lot of work is put into them upfront so that it’s easier for those who buy the subscription plan to do their part when creating content.
With done-for-you recurring subscriptions programs, there will always be new content coming in regularly with each monthly or yearly payment period.
This type of model also has the option of being drip-fed over time instead of all at once like other models might have it set up.
Flaticon is a great example of Done for You Resources. Here, you can buy sets of icons in various styles and sizes.
10. Accountability Membership
Accountability memberships are for those who want to get in the habit of doing something and need help staying accountable and on track with goals. Or just want someone else to provide a little push.
In these membership models you’ll find things like classes that require meeting at specific times (for example: weekly yoga), online programs where participants must log their progress each day, monthly coaching sessions/check-ins, etc.
There might be an app that goes along with this type of membership model. Or it might be something that can be done within a membership site, since these can be mobile friendly too.
11. Agency and Service Memberships
This is a no-brainer type of membership for freelancers, agencies, and anyone who works with clients already.
It’s also a great way to onboard 1 on 1 coaching clients, and build in a clear process to keep everyone on the same page.
Since the majority of your audience is freelancers, agencies, and service providers. You get to offer a product or service they can actually use for an affordable monthly fee! And you are only competing with others who provide similar services.
The best part is that this smooths out the freelancer’s feast and famine cycles. You also have a more predictable amount of work month after month.
Example: SnapCopy uses credits to manage client copywriting projects.
12. Internal Training Turned Into a Profit Center
As your business grows, you’ll start to amass a lot of internal knowledge that you want your whole team to become familiar with. Having a membership site to host internal training, onboarding videos, exercises, and other resources is extremely efficient.
You can keep track of who on your team is up to speed, and easily bring in new team members and help them onboard quickly. Tracking metrics like this means you’ve got a finger on the pulse of your business and team’s growth.
A solid internal training program can strengthen any growing team. As your business grows and requires more team members to function, it will become a no-brainer to have this program in place. Not only will it free you up from doing 1-1 training, but it will also ensure that everyone is on the same page.
If you’re working with a team, you’ve probably already started recording short training videos for how to do certain things in your business, or run weekly/monthly training sessions that are recorded. You might have even started to create a company wiki to house this information.’
You can also use this strategy to offer CEUs or another type of certification.
Example: Digital Marketer turned their own internal company training into a paid certification program that they’ve continued to improve and earn from.
13. Dripped Content or Online Courses
Some membership site models are a natural fit for things that happen every month or every week. For example, you might be creating a new piece of content to match the astrological changes happening each month.
Or, you might be launching an online course that would be better consumed over time, like music lessons that must be mastered before moving on.
Doing this type of membership might mean you need a drip course plugin, or other way to release content over time if you’re not creating it live each month or week.
Adding an online course to existing membership sites shouldn’t be too complicated, depending on what software you use to help your online business.
Example: Whole Woman by Sarah Jenks is a monthly membership that follows the cycles of the moon with dripped content, and also combines other elements of the membership site models above.
How to Choose the Best Membership Site Model for Your Business
In the end, you know best who your current clients are and what you can offer as a benefit to help them grow.
Don’t be concerned if none of the options above feels like the “perfect fit”. You can always mix and match membership site models to come up with the perfect balance.
That way your membership model is guaranteed to engage your clients and bring in a stream of recurring revenue.