Regular supply of work is vital for the health of your budget. When you don’t have projects lined up, you may enjoy the free time you have but at some point you will begin to feel the monetary pressure. We have all been through the phases when no decent project is around but when this happens frequently, life gets very stressful. One of the ways to solve this problem is by implementing the subscription model.
While the subscription model is certainly not a panacea and it does have its downsides as well, not to mention that there are many cases when you simply can’t apply it, it’s a good model to build your financial health on. If you manage to avoid the pitfalls, the subscription model can offer really a lot.
Why the Subscription Model Is Good for You and Your Business
The main advantage of having subscribing clients is that this brings a regular supply of work (thus income) to you. This model is a form of repetitive business, the best of which is that it is scheduled at regular intervals, allowing you to plan both your workload and your finances.
If you have 3 subscribing clients at $30 a month each, this might not be much but it is guaranteed money. Of course, you can have many more than 3 subscribing clients and charge more than $30 a month, so that the amount is more tangible but you get the idea – every month you are entitled to your subscription fees.
When you manage to find subscribing clients, you sell your services in advance. You don’t have to look for work or have unpaid downtime. The existence of subscribers could be a huge time-saver because you don’t have to get familiar with a new project, don’t have to draw contracts, don’t have to negotiate. All these activities you can’t avoid with new clients and new projects are eating into your time for real work and the more you minimize them, the better.
Pitfalls of the Subscription Model
The subscription model does work but it also does have its pitfalls. First, your type of business might not be suitable for a subscription type of charging, though honestly almost always you can adapt your business, so that it can be.
For instance, if you create sites and you offer ongoing maintenance, this is a good candidate for a subscription service. However, if you just create the site, turn it to the client and have no more involvement because the project doesn’t require it, or because you hate the very mention of the word ‘maintenance’, then you won’t be able to take advantage of the subscription model.
Another issue to watch for is your fee structure. Basically, it is best if you have a fixed monthly fee and incident charges. If you have only a monthly fee, and there are lots of work, this can drown you. If you decide to avoid this by offering a high monthly fee, your clients will rightfully frown because they will have to pay you this fee even when there is no work needing done.
Workload balance is especially tricky with subscription services. If you manage to find many subscribing clients, you might get overbooked. It happens frequently that many of your clients need more service than what’s offered in the subscription and this could be hard to meet, if you have filled your schedule to the limits. Of course, you can always hire help but this isn’t issue-free either.
Additionally, when your schedule is filled with subscription work and better opportunities pop up, it’s quite possible you will miss out on them. Sure, if you are to choose between missing great opportunities because you are filled with subscription work and having no work at all, the choice isn’t difficult but if you value diversity of projects, these missed opportunities will be an issue.
How to Find Subscribing Clients
One of the hardest things about the subscription models could be finding subscribers. However, it could also be very easy to do – it all depends on the type of services you offer and your sales skills. One of the easiest ways to find subscribers is to simply tell your existing clients (and any new clients you land) that you offer ongoing maintenance, or any other form of subscription services, and the chances are they will be interested.
If the subscription service is not directly related to your present business – i.e. you decide to start a site where you offer premium images, rather than expand in the direction of offering site maintenance – you will hardly be able to use your existing client pool of clients for whom you have created sites in the past.
The reason is that your new service is more suited to designers rather than end-users. In this case you can’t use your existing client base. Instead, you need to find new clients. One approach is to advertise your services – for instance with PPC ads, or post in forums where designers gather. This is harder than converting your existing clients to subscription clients but if your service isn’t of interest to your existing clients, you have no other choice.
However, the hard part doesn’t end here. You need not only to attract subscribing clients but also to keep them. Obviously, you need to offer good quality for your services but this alone isn’t enough. If clients don’t need your service, even if the quality is good, they will leave. Therefore, always factor some drop rate – you can’t retain 100% of your subscribers even if you offer out of this world products/services.
One way to ensure your clients stay longer with you is to offer discounts for pre-payment. For instance, you can offer 1-month fee for $30, 3-months for $80, 6-months for $150, etc. Of course, you can’t avoid refunds (unless you explicitly state there are no refunds but this will make it harder to attract new clients), so don’t count on prepayment as a way of tieing up your clients.
Membership Sites As a Form of Subscription Service
One of the forms of subscription services that requires special attention are membership sites. This form could be suitable if you offer electronic goods, such as images, articles, templates, etc., or consultation-types of services, such as tutoring. However, you need remember that a membership site is very hard work and you need to have a good number of subscribers in order to stay afloat.
There are many platforms to build a membership site on but probably the easiest is to use WordPress and a membership site plugin. There are a bunch of good ones – free and paid – and setting them isn’t rocket science.
The second most difficult thing to retaining subscribers is the regular supply of content. In some cases it might take you just a few days a month to create the monthly content but in other cases this could turn into a fulltime job (unfortunately, not necessarily accompanied by a fulltime income).
Anyway, membership sites and the subscription model as a whole are really promising and it makes sense to try them. They might not make you a millionaire but they allow for a steady income, so for a freelancer or a small business they are a viable option.
Image Source: Vintage retro grunge sale labels via Shutterstock.
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