How Your Service Business Can Move to the Membership Model
There are many reasons people are attracted to the membership model.
The most compelling for us is how dramatically different (and better) making recurring income from a membership is compared to servicing clients on a one-on-one basis.
This is particularly true if you’re a “one man band”, where you’re solely responsible for the delivery of what you sell, so that might be:
- Website developers
- Business coaches
- Graphic designers
- Marketing consultants
Or anyone else who works with clients one on one or even in small groups.
Your business is holding you back.
In this article I’m going to explain why the membership model is far superior to offering one-to-one services, as well as show you how you can start incorporating memberships and subscriptions into your own business.
What’s so wrong with offering services to clients?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely trashing service-based businesses.
Hell, I ran one for almost a decade.
But the problem with this sort of business is that you are its point of weakness.
Often you’re trading time for money, selling your particular set of skills to whoever will pay you. And If you go down, your business goes down with you.
Not feeling too good? Tough luck, you’ve got a deadline to hit! Want to take time off to hang with friends? Well that’s just fine as long as you’re okay with not getting paid this month.
Remember that old boss you couldn’t stand? Well now you have a dozen of them, they’re called clients, and your business lives or dies on their whims.
Of course this is painting a deliberately bleak picture, but you get my point.
Perhaps your clients are the best in the world. Amazing, patient, fun to work with people who always pay on time and never piss you off.
Even then let me ask you… are you fulfilled?
Do your clients challenge you and enable you to really flex your muscles, tapping into the full wealth of skills and knowledge you have at your disposal?
Or have you found yourself forever in first gear, repeatedly doing the same menial tasks simply because it’s what people want to pay for? Like a gourmet chef stuck flipping burgers in McDonalds.
There are few things as frustrating for a business owner than the feeling of being under-appreciated and under-utilized.
Tax bills, invoices not being paid, demanding clients – those can be dealt with. But never reaching your full potential, that’s a different kettle of very depressed fish.
Advantages of switching to the membership model
If any of this is sounding familiar, then here’s how the membership model changes things:
- Better leverage – creating a membership website around a specific topic enables you to make the most of your knowledge, experiences, skills and expertise.You’re in control, and whether you’re offering e-learning, a coaching programme or a community – you get to tap into the full extent of your toolkit and share it with others.
- Stable, recurring, accumulating revenue – having hundreds of members paying you a small fee every month makes for a far less volatile source of income than relying on a small number of clients. It also means you stop trading time for money and instead focus on building an asset that will continuously grow in value.
- Less pressure, more flexibility – by ditching crazy clients and demanding deadlines, you take full control of your business and are no longer subject to others. You choose when you work, where you work and what you work on.
Successful memberships still require hard work, but it’s work on your terms, and work that can be far more fulfilling and rewarding than servicing clients.
Identifying opportunities for moving from services to membership
When looking to move to a membership-based business from a client services one there are essentially two ways you can go:
- Create a membership related to your area of business
- Create a membership related to a hobby or passion that is completely unrelated to your business
In many ways the latter is the path of least resistance, since it will be completely separate from your day to day business – what the kids today are calling a “side hustle”.
However if you’re creating a membership related to what you do for a living, with the aim of moving away from client work, then the first thing you need to do is identify and explore the opportunities that already exist within your business that would be suited to the membership model.
Identify the most common elements of what you currently offer
What services are you most frequently asked for?
Which questions do your clients most commonly ask?
Figuring out the most universal aspects of what it is you offer and what your clients want is a great starting point for identifying opportunities to create a membership product.
Remember, you don’t actually sell web design, or business coaching, or social media training.
You sell solutions to problems.
Everything else is just fluff.
So what are the biggest, most common problems your existing client base have that you provide a solution to? How can you solve those problems within a paid membership?
What are the unique elements and assets within your existing business?
Have you created or developed anything unique to your business that others could not offer?
If you’re a designer, have you created any graphics that you could offer to members?
If you’re a website developer, have you created templates, software or plugins?
As a consultant, coach or trainer do you have any unique programs or processes that you use with your clients?
If you haven’t done anything like this, could you?
What do people need before, during and after they’ve worked with you?
Often when providing services on a one-to-one basis we find ourselves only delivering one piece of the puzzle.
Clients typically don’t realise they need any of the other stuff.
Sometimes time or budget get in the way. And there are just some things that don’t fit your current business model.
Think about the whole picture.
Look at the specific problem you’re currently solving, and expand it in both directions – looking at the broader scope of things as well as breaking it down into smaller, more specific topics.
Mindmap every aspect of what someone working with you may need – in terms of solutions and support – before, during and after you’ve provided your particular service.
This will open up a wealth of areas you can build your membership around.
What would you have wanted when you were starting your business?
So far we’ve mostly looked at finding a way of serving your existing customer base better with a membership; however there could be a huge opportunity in creating something for your peers too.
Often those starting their own business do so because they have a particular skill or passion, and in a lot of cases they don’t start out with any business or marketing skills.
Could you leverage your experience in running your own business to help others doing the same?
Your first steps for making the transition
With the decision made to move your business towards the membership model, and opportunities identified for what that membership will look like, how do you get started?
Survey your current clients and audience
It’s always good to start with what you already have, so it makes sense to get some initial feedback from your existing clients and contacts.
Get in touch with current and past clients, run your idea past them and see what they think.
Idea validation is a key part of the membership planning process, and it’s something you’ll dig further into as you start to really put your plan of action together – but for now who better to get initial feedback from than people who have already dipped their hand into their pocket and paid you to help them?
Start by offering a makeshift version of your idea as an addon or supplementary service
Remember that all we’re doing is providing solutions to problems.
If you can deliver something close to your membership idea that solves the same set of problems without needing to actually create the membership then that’s a great way to lay the groundwork to future developments.
So if you plan to offer training within your membership, start by offering one-to-one or group training to your clients.
If you’ll be providing member-only tools and resources, try selling them as premium add-ons for people you’re currently working with.
Not only will this help to shape your eventual membership offering but it’s also a great way of validating that your idea is viable.
Generate leads and start gathering your tribe
If you’re not already investing effort into generating leads and building your email list, then now is the time to start.
You’re going to need an audience and a following when you open the doors to your membership; otherwise you’ll launch to the sound of crickets riding on the back of tumbleweeds.
Start blogging, grow your social media following, incentivize people to join your mailing list and start building your tribe.
This will put you in a far greater position to really accelerate your membership plans.
Set a deadline and commit to a specific amount of time per week to make this happen
Once you’ve decided that you want to move away from client services and into running a membership site, the most important thing is to take action.
Decide on a deadline for launching your site. Be realistic.
And once this is set, commit to spending a fixed amount of time every week, or even every day, in service of this goal.
Consider yourself a client. And your most important one at that. Prioritise your membership plans and make sure they don’t fall to the bottom of your to-do list.
The membership model allows you to create a more stable, scalable and overall more fulfilling business than a one where you’re solely responsible for delivering a service to clients.
Successful memberships require work, but it’s rewarding work done on your terms.
The opportunities and inspiration for creating a membership website are already there within your business and you should now be able to identify them; but the most important thing once you decide to transition to the membership model is to start taking action.