Circle Editorial Team


10 min read

How to create a paid membership community alongside free content

If you’ve been a content creator for some time now, you’ll understand the struggle that comes with marketing paid memberships to your community.

Perhaps you’re afraid they’ll leave the community because they don’t want to pay for content, or you won’t get as many paid membership sign-ups as you hoped for. You’re certainly not alone in this. Offering paid memberships alongside free content is a tricky balance to master.

Aside from your community’s reaction, you may also feel unsure how to value yourself or what you’re offering as part of your paid membership packages.

Too high, and you might alienate your community; too low, and it’ll be hard to make a profit. Market your paid memberships poorly, and not enough people will take the bait.

There’s a lot at stake here. But thanks to our recent interview with the founder of the uber-successful Ness Labs community, Anne-Laure Le Cunff, who created a thriving paid membership community with 1K Circle members – that journey is now that bit clearer.

Our conversation with Anne-Laure inspired us to delve into this topic further with a guide on how to create a paid membership community alongside your free content. So if you want to know how to launch a paid community with clarity and confidence, just keep reading!

How to pitch paid community memberships

Create your membership sales funnel

First, you need to get to grips with who you’re pitching paid memberships to. So, take a deeper look at your target and current audiences and figure out how you can tap into their pain points at every stage of the sales funnel: Awareness, consideration, and conversion.

What is a sales funnel?

We’re glad you asked. It’s commonly referred to as the “path” or “buyer journey” that people take before they “convert” or purchase something from you.

We break this sales funnel down into three stages, and it’s your job now to figure out how your audience behaves in every stage, as this will be totally unique to your community.

  • Awareness: The person becomes aware of you, your content, and your paid memberships via your social media, website, newsletter, ads, or even word of mouth.
  • Consideration: The person compares you with similar offerings, checks out reviews online, and does their own research to learn more about you and your competitors.
  • Conversion: The person weighs up all of their paid community options. Then, they choose the winner and convert (a.k.a. sign up for your paid membership!)

How to optimize your membership funnel

Now that you understand the three stages of every sales funnel, it’s time to use this core marketing system to your advantage.

Begin by creating “buyer personas” for each audience segment you currently have or are targeting. Each segment will have different issues, lifestyles, and needs, so you’ll need to market to each one differently.

Here is an example of a “buyer persona” for a social media-related paid membership – so you know what we’re talking about.

Buyer persona:

Name: Annie Jones
Age: 18-26
Occupation: Beauty technician by day, budding influencer by night
Location: California
Income: $30k
Hobbies: Makeup artistry, nail artistry, going to the gym, clubbing, beach days
Hangouts: Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube
Pain points:

  • Works hard with her beauty page on Instagram, but not seeing results
  • Frustrated by her peers growing fast on Tik Tok while she lags behind
  • No time outside of her full-time job to focus on her Social Media career
  • Finds writing captions time-consuming & not sure how to use hashtags

How you can help:

  • Help build long-term social media strategy for growth
  • Give her training on deciphering social media analytics
  • Empower her not to compare herself with others online
  • Provide her with the tools she needs to succeed on Tik Tok
  • Help her develop a content calendar to save time and stress
  • In-depth guidance on making the most of hashtags

How to reach your audience at every stage of the membership funnel

Once you’ve mapped out every buyer persona and their journey through the funnel, create content that resonates with each persona at each stage.

The idea here is that you’re positioning yourself as someone who brings value to your audience to create more engagement and build “hype” for your future paid offerings.

Awareness: Valuable content that builds your community in public like Q&As, rich social media posts, and linking Twitter conversations to specific threads in your community.

Consideration: Informative content that shows your audience the benefits of joining your community, case studies, how-to guides, and anything else that helps your audience decide.

Conversion: Sending your audience to a landing page for your paid membership, newsletters inviting them to sign up, member testimonials, and free trials.

How to create an attractive paid membership community

To entice those who’ve been enjoying your free content for some time to join you in a paid community, you need to create a community in which your people will find genuine value.

Rather than just dishing out “exclusive content”, you want to offer something your audience won’t find anywhere else.

Here are some top tips for creating more value in your community:

1. 1:1 time
People love feeling like they’re getting their money’s worth – and scheduling 1:1 time with your members (especially founding members) is one of the best ways to do just that, even if it’s just a 15-min call every week!

2. Buddy system

Matching your members up with others in a buddy system helps to build consistent engagement and gives your members the connection they often crave from joining a paid community.

3. Live interactions

Live Q&As, tutorials, panels, and discussions with your members are key to building an engaged paid community. If you’re only offering static content and discussion groups, your members may not see much more value than your free channels.

4. Special spaces

After each live stream with your members, it’s a great idea to set up specific spaces where they can continue the conversation, especially if your live stream is focused on a particular topic. This way, you can help your members help each other.

5. Quality over quantity

Instead of worrying about posting a high frequency of content, spend more time improving the quality of your content so that every post is rich, informative, and highly valuable to boost paid community engagement.

6. Exclusive content

One of the most critical aspects of creating a paid membership community is delivering as much content as possible that’s exclusive to your paying members to make buying your plans worth it.

7. No response time limits

Making it clear to your members that they can reply to a specific topic or re-engage a conversation in spaces at any point of their paid membership takes the pressure off to respond immediately and helps build consistent engagement.

8. Let members create spaces

Though you might have an idea of the type of spaces that will work well to build an engaged paid community, it’s not until you allow your members to create their own spaces that you might realize your gut feelings aren’t always right!

9. Play to your strengths

Focusing on topics you’re weaker at isn’t sustainable and will make creating content a chore. When you instead play to your strengths – work doesn’t feel like work. Maintaining quality and consistency is easier when focusing on what you know.

How to define your paid membership success

Employing various strategies to help boost paid memberships and community engagement is all well and good, but if you’re not setting goals and measuring success, how can you know what’s working and what isn’t?

Defining success can be difficult, however. And it will be different for every paid membership and every community. Sometimes, it’s not just about how long your members stay or spend in your community or how much they engage with it, but how much value they get from it. And as we know, value means different things to different people.

Here are some ways you can measure success in your paid community:

  • Surveys

One of the most obvious yet often overlooked ways of measuring community engagement and success is by asking your members. You can set up polls, send out surveys, and simply ask for feedback via chat to get an idea of your success levels.

  • Churn rate

Keep an eye on your churn rate to figure out what percentage of members are signing up for paid memberships, how long they stay on average, and what percentage of them unsubscribe. This helps you understand the value you’re giving people because if it’s not enough – they won’t stick around.

  • Complaints

Surprisingly, complaints are actually a good sign! When you have people complaining or wanting their problem solved, they’re highly engaged and invested in your paid community because, instead of just leaving, they want to improve their experience.

  • Analytics

How many conversations are your members having? How many connections does each member make on average? What is the quality of member-generated content? You can’t measure success without taking data and evidence into account. Comparing figures against KPIs each month will let you know if you’re on the right track.

Use resources to create a more engaged community

We’ll leave you with this final, but essential message for your community engagement strategy: Don’t be afraid to accept help! You’d be surprised by what you can achieve with a bit of support.

  • Mentors

Try reaching out to leaders in your space that have found success with online paid communities and ask them for their advice and support, even if it’s just asking them a few questions over Twitter!

  • Staff

If you’re not great at keeping on top of admin work, finances, or managing technology, why not hire an assistant to take care of the things you’re not good at or don’t enjoy? Hiring staff allows you to focus all your energy on creating more value.

  • Tools

Project management tools, customer relationship management software, scheduling tools, and more can make running a thriving paid community much more manageable. Save time on repetitive tasks and let the tools do the hard work for you!

Ready to create your paid membership community?

Now that you’ve reached the end of our guide to building a paid community alongside your free content, it’s time to start putting your community engagement strategy into motion!

From understanding the sales funnel and buyer personas to creating more value in your community and defining success, we hope you feel more ready than ever to pitch paid memberships to your people!

We’d like to thank Anne-Laure for the excellent ideas and tips explored in her interview, and can’t wait for the next one!

If you’d like to learn more about successful paid community leader, Anne-Laure, you can visit her website, Ness Labs – a community of curious humans who want to achieve more without sacrificing their mental health.

Or, you can check out Circle’s other training videos for more inspiration, motivation, and top tips.

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