Which membership model is best for your business?

Which membership model is best for your business?

So, you’ve decided to start your own membership site. Cool! Now, how do you settle on the right membership model to use?

Aren’t all memberships basically the same? Not exactly. While recurring or subscription payments are certainly the standard, there are actually a variety of ways you can structure your membership to suit your needs, and the needs of your potential members.

Depending on the nature of your content, your membership model has the potential to make or break the user experience, which affects things like member retention and the return on your investment. So, it’s fair to say that it’s an important element to get right!

In this post, we cover some different membership models to consider, so you can decide which one will work best for your business.

What are your goals?

Before you can decide on the right way to structure your memberships, you want to get clear on what your goals are. Are you looking to create an entire ecosystem and membership community built around your products? Do you want a simple subscription model that functions as a side business? Or, do you just want to restrict some of your content and sell it to your customers as a premium option?

What about your monthly and yearly revenue goals? What kind of model has the potential to give you the end result you’re looking for, given the tools, resources, and help that you have available to you? Do you want to have a fully-fledged membership site as your main source of income?

Creating meaningful memberships starts with having a vision in mind. So, what’s yours?

What kind of content do you produce?

The most suitable membership model for your business largely depends on what you sell. The model that works for someone selling a 3-week fitness program is going to be different from someone selling access to a library of stock photos, for example.


If you sell your own services, offering an ongoing monthly subscription plan for a specific service package (also known as a productized service) is a simple model that creates a stable, predictable income for you – and an easy payment scheme for your clients. An example might be where you deliver a certain amount of copywriting services per month, or you give members a specific amount of consulting time with you.

If you offer things like coaching and training, you may also want to give your members additional materials, companion downloads, and access to an online community or resource portal. So, in this case, you’d want to create a membership that had a member area, possibly with a discussion forum, resource portal, etc.

Digital products or content

Do you sell digital products like eBooks, graphics, audio, video, or documents? Do you want people to download your content or consume it online?

Usually, digitally downloadable products are delivered post-purchase via a unique download link either in an email or in the user dashboard. Alternately, you might require your members to consume content like videos or articles online, where it’s all kept behind a paywall.

When it comes to downloads, you might allow your members to choose a certain number of products per month, or give them access to your entire library of products at once in exchange for a flat monthly fee. Regardless, your products will be restricted to paying members in one form or another.

Digital courses

Digital courses can be provided several ways; one way would be to charge members a monthly fee for access to a collection of courses. Another way would be to charge a fixed price for one specific course.

A course might run for a specific time frame, or it may be modular, with members getting access to consecutive modules upon completion of different sections of content, tests, quizzes, or other prerequisites. Or, members may have total access to a full course upon purchase, giving them the option to complete the course on their own timeline.

Physical products

Physical product subscriptions are pretty straight-forward, as a majority of these types of membership businesses offer either a flat monthly fee, or tiered memberships with different product packages. Sometimes, deep discounts are given to members for choosing yearly payment plans instead of monthly plans.

Web apps / SaaS

Web apps / SaaS products tend to be sold at a monthly or yearly recurring rate, with discounts often given for choosing yearly instead of monthly pricing. Members pay the recurring fee to have regular access to the product online, as well as support and updates.

These types of products can be customized to specific user needs, and sometimes come with the option to calculate monthly price based on usage (not unlike metered billing, except calculated upfront instead of after use). SaaS platforms like MailChimp allow you to calculate a monthly price based on your number of contacts, for example.


Tiered memberships are particularly useful when it comes to software, whether you create themes, plugins, or desktop software. You can offer things like basic and pro versions, or give members different levels of access to additional content, add-ons, and terms of use (such as multiple site use).

You might even decide to offer different yearly packages that include several software products together, such as a collection of eCommerce plugins, or a collection of themes that work well for certain types of design clients (portfolio themes for models and photographers, for example).

Community memberships

If you have a personal brand or a topic that you want to build a community around, you might decide to charge members a fixed monthly rate in exchange for access to your online content, resources, tools, and discussion forums. A community membership focuses on providing members with a place to communicate with other members, help each other make the most of your content, expanding your brand ecosystem and helping your members at the same time.

This model can be especially effective if you champion a specific cause, or provide health, lifestyle, or relationship advice, coaching, or training. It’s not uncommon to see site owners mix in different membership content components, such as live webinars, extra materials and downloads, as well as one-to-one coaching or consulting.

VIP memberships

This type of membership is a pretty simple concept, which is that members pay a VIP membership fee upfront in exchange for discounted products. Maybe it’s a one-off fee, or a recurring fee each month or year, but the premise is that members can save serious cash by joining. This model is often used for physical products, but can be applied to digital products as well.

All access memberships

Whatever type of products you have to offer, all access memberships are usually an attractive option for people who want access to everything, or can’t decide right away what exactly they want to download. All access is a simple structure that can be used as a standalone model, or in combination with other models.

Maybe you want to offer all access passes as a premium option in addition to your normal membership offering. Or, you might decide that you want to give full access to your entire member base, across the board.

If you want to learn more about different membership pricing models, head on over here!

How much time can you commit to maintaining your membership site?

It’s important to have a handle on the level of commitment you’re able to make when it comes to your membership site, both time-wise and resource-wise. If you’re doing it as a side project and you just don’t have the time (or the team) to do a lot of maintenance and new content creation, something simple and minimal might be the right thing for you.

On the other hand, if you are prepared to dedicate a significant amount of time and energy to your membership site – even make it your primary project – you may have more room to add in additional tiers, or create a multi-faceted membership that combines different elements like a membership community, downloadables, add-ons, and services.

Bring it back to goals

Defining what you want to achieve, even loosely, will help guide the direction of your membership business and website.

For instance, if you’re a non-profit organization, you might make decisions based on exposure, as opposed to revenue. If you have shareholders or others who have made investments in your business, on the other hand, you might be more inspired to choose a membership model that has the potential to scale quickly, as opposed to a model designed for slow-but-steady organic growth.

What’s the outcome you’re going for?

Hopefully this post has been helpful in highlighting some of the different paths you could take. Remember that you can always change it up later on, but it’s good to be clear about your vision, to avoid extra administrative and structural hassles down the line!

What membership model has worked best for your business? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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  1. Hey I am looking for a metered paywall that allows users to read “X” amount of articles before being prompted to sign up. I don’t see this feature mentioned. Does RCP not offer the leaky paywalls? Thanks

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