The average digital entrepreneur likely constantly looks for startup opportunities online. One type of opportunity with a great deal of potential financially is to set up a subscription site. Do the numbers: 200 members per month at $50/mth per subscriber = $10K/mth. If you offer a service or product that only has one-time or low monthly overhead, that’s not a bad side business.
However, there’s far more to building a successful subscription site than just setting it up. Yaro Starak of Entrepreneur’s Journey recently launched his own membership site earlier this year – Blog Mastermind. Now he’s done the unthinkable: he’s showing you how to do your own. He’s on part 8 of a long-term series, and he’s revealed quite a lot of valuable information.
The pessimist might think this is a nice ploy, because now hundreds of people are going to try, and they’ll flood the market with services – obscuring the few truly good subscription services that might follow Yaro’s Blog Mastermind. The optimist will note the one clue Yaro gave that will clear all the competitors away: establishing your presence online, which is the first step, and takes the blogger “with potential” six months to two years.
My own opinion on the matter is that if you haven’t built at least one PR (Google PageRank) 6 site on your own (or are not associated with having done so), you haven’t established enough presence for a subscription service to succeed. PR is a much reviled measure of a website/ blog’s success, but it’s a ballpark measure of how much linkage you’re getting from elsewhere and thus recognition.
Being the mad entrepreneur, a few people and I are exploring the possibility of a subscription service at some point in the next year. It caters to our skills, which is the best approach. This is the nutshell strategy that I’m following with a group of people, separate but related to the partners in my online bootstrapping experiment.
- Pick the product. Determine what service/ products you intend to build a subscription offer around. This is just the overview stage.
- Show yoursef. Build your presence in suitable channels.
- Build a visible blog/ site.
- Establish your name or brand.
- Guest blog to make yourself more visible. There are tons of great blogs that want quality articles. Some might be in your niche, and you’ll get a link in the byline.
- Stealth mode. Build your promotional channels in stealth mode, before you build your subscription service. This includes any or all of the following:
- Plan the infrastructure for an affiliate program.
- Make lots of online friends who might become affiliates.
- Build social media accounts.
- Set up the early stage of a private forum with those online friends, who’ll later “tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on and so on.”
- Scope things out. While your promo channels are being built out, clearly define the parameters:
- The service’s feature set. What can you offer that is unique and thus worth buying.
- What market are you targetting. It’s always best to go with a niche you know and are passionate about.
- The number of subscribers you are aiming for.
- What infrastucture needs you’ll have if you reach your goal (i.e, domain names, websites, hosting costs) or surpass it.
- Whether the infrastructure needs to be scalable and whether it can be.
- Whether to have phased membership.
- Whether to offer early-adopter discounts, and how to do it.
- Whether to offer one subscription package or several.
- How to price the packages.
- How to collect recurring payment.
- How to reimburse unsatisfied subscribers.
- How to pre-promote the service.
- When to launch it.
- How to promote it.
- Whether you can bootstrap the early incoming funds to support any necessary expansion and promotion.
- Whether to stop promoting, depending on phases.
- How to maintain a brand and presence to keep the subscribers you have and/or entice new members – since there’ll always be some attrition.
- Start building. This takes a fine sense of timing. Nothing’s ever new online for long, and you don’t want to have spent money building an infrastructure if it’s not scalable, if you can’t change the product/ service you’re offering, or if you can’t otherwise reuse it.
There’s a lot more to know than just these five steps, and I urge you to read Yaro’s series. Exactly how you approach such a project depends on your time frame, since you want what you’re offering to be timely. By the time you have enough presence to launch your service, someone else might have already done so. That’s why so many online professionals go with a “product” that reflects their skills and knowledge, which is likely an unique package.
If you’re successful, the payoff can be huge. Some of the membership sites I subscribe to or have subscribed to are rumored to make US$40-100K/month. Can you build enough presence and authority online, and offer enough of a unique or valuable service to “deserve” such returns? Because despite the unwillingness of people to pay subscription fees to newspaper websites, there are many online professionals willing to part with up to $250/month. That’s if you give them something they need, something they can’t get elsewhere, which makes their professional life easier, earns them money, or simply just educates them in their chosen field. I spend anywhere from $40-$150/month on such services at any given time, and might actually be closer to $300/mth in the future.
The opportunities are there. Just remember that if you are essentially a new presence in the blogosphere, you’ve got a bit of a journey ahead of you before you become a successful digital entrepreneur. Don’t be dissuaded, just plan well and get started.