10 Proven Membership Business Models to Launch

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Creating a membership-based business website – through one of the best membership website builders – offers plenty of benefits.

First, subscriptions represent recurring revenue – money your business can, essentially, count on being there month to month. For another, they engender stronger customer relationships.

Third? They tap into a fundamental element of the human psyche – the need to feel included. To be a member; to feel a part of something. In that respect, when you dip your toe into the warm, inviting waters of the membership space, you’re not simply building a business – but a community.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. So how do you create a membership business website, exactly – and which membership business model should you choose?

We’ve pulled together our list of the 10 best membership models to guide your decision. Read on to explore the full list!

1. Subscription Box Services

Subscription box services have always been popular. (Who doesn’t like stuff delivered directly to their door, after all – without having to remember to reorder and pay for it each month?)

But during the COVID-19 pandemic, subscription box services soared as a reliable, trustworthy, and virus-free way of topping up the cupboard.

The model involves recurring delivery programs that send curated, handpicked, or personalized products directly to a customer’s doorstep (usually monthly). Convenience is its major selling point, but surprise also plays a role: with some companies, a different selection of products arrives each month, so the customer, refreshingly, never knows quite what to expect.

Beauty products, food, books, and fitness products all work well on a subscription basis. And some of the companies succeeding in this field this year include:

  • Birchbox: a beauty subscription service offering personalized samples and expert tips.
  • SnackNation: tailored snack selections for corporate clients.
  • Book of the Month: a monthly selection of handpicked reading material.
Birchbox website screenshot
Beauty subscription service Birchbox furnishes its subscribers with personalized samples and expert tips.

2. Online Learning Platforms

One thing individuals and businesses are always looking to do? Upskill.

In response to this, a thriving market has popped up: online learning (or “e-learning”).

And it’s a big one. By 2030, the global e-learning market size is projected to surpass more than $848 billion – and it’s already a multi-billion dollar market. Online learning also offers a huge array of monetization and engagement strategies: from freemium content and paywalls to gamification and community-building.

Online learning includes video courses, live webinars, and interactive workshops to appeal to all neurotypes and learning styles. And some of the industry’s key players include:

  • Coursera: specializing in degree and certificate programs, Coursera partners with prestigious universities and academic institutions to offer a wide range of courses.
  • Udemy: boasting a vast library of online courses, Udemy offers a diverse catalog of remote learning opportunities for businesses and individuals.
  • MasterClass: allowing participants to learn from world-renowned experts in their fields (including Noam Chomsky and Martin Scorsese), MasterClass provides an immersive and highly engaging learning experience – albeit a more expensive one!
Coursera website screenshot
Coursera partners with prestigious universities to offer courses that run the educational gamut – all of which subscribers can complete from the comfort of their own homes.

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3. Exclusive Content and Media

Everyone likes to feel like they’re getting access to something few other people have – which is why buzzwords like “exclusive” and “never-before-seen” still hold so much sway with consumers.

As a membership model, though, exclusive content and media is a good one. And the best part? Rather than operating in mutual exclusion with your regular membership model, it can actually work in tandem with it – helping you build your brand while building a community; incentivizing your most loyal followers to stick around by offering them content non-paying customers can’t enjoy.

Let’s take Stephen King-themed podcast The KingCast as an example. Every week, the hosts release an episode into their “main feed” – available on Spotify, iTunes, and all reputable podcast platforms. However, The KingCast also has a separate feed – available through Patreon, a popular membership monetization platform – where they release regular episodes only available to paying subscribers.

This way, The KingCast can build a base audience of non-paying customers: hooking them in and keeping them interested, while building regular calls-to-action (CTAs) for their Patreon service into freely available episodes. Better still, the free episodes still make money through ad reads, and through horror magazine FANGORIA’s sponsorship.

So it’s a win-win on all accounts!

4. Fitness and Wellness Memberships

We humans like to stay fit and healthy – so the fact that the fitness and wellness market is expected to hit almost $13 trillion by 2031 (and is already worth almost half that now) comes as no real shock. Seemingly everyone is seeking some “holistic” solution to live a more balanced, healthier life – and fitness and wellness memberships have emerged as a powerful way of providing these on an ongoing basis.

Fitness and wellness memberships can include online workouts, personalized one-on-one coaching, or diet and exercise routines customized to the individual. They also encompass online communities for like-minded individuals looking to improve their mental and physical health through group challenges and peer motivation: such as forums dedicated to advice-sharing, and stories of both struggles and successes.

Some lifestyle and fitness companies already bossing it in the game include:

  • Peloton: through its live spin classes and workouts customers can do from their own home, Peloton has garnered an engaged (and almost cult-like) following.
  • MyFitnessPal: an app offering personalized fitness and nutrition tracking, helping customers manage and track their health and weight ongoing.
  • Fitbit Premium: this premium extension of the activity tracker’s service offers more advanced tracking functionality, as well as health insights and guided workouts.
Peleton website screenshot
Peloton provides its subscribers with live spin classes and home-based guided workouts.

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Learn How To Make a Forum Website for your members in our full guide!

5. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Memberships

In recent years, the software landscape has shifted from one-time purchases to subscription-based models. The result? The rise of the term Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), to indicate software’s status as something you never buy (outright at least), but simply rent.

The software membership model has a multitude of benefits for businesses (recurring revenue, improved customer insights, and reduced piracy) as well as for consumers, who enjoy continuous updates and regular support and maintenance, plus the affordability that being able to pay in monthly installments offers.

The SaaS model also allows your company to play with a plethora of pricing strategies: including tiered plans, free trials, and discounts for annual, rather than monthly, billing.

Some popular SaaS companies include:

  • Salesforce: the leader in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, which provides sales, marketing, and customer service tools for businesses.
  • Adobe Creative Cloud: including Photoshop and Illustrator, Adobe’s superb suite of design resources offers customers ongoing access to the latest versions and updates.
  • Microsoft 365: a popular productivity suite available on a subscription basis.
Salesforce website screenshot
Salesforce is the world’s leading CRM system – offering its software to customers as a subscription, and utilizing strategies such as tiered pricing and free trials.

6. Access to Physical Spaces

Another example of a growing trend the COVID-19 simply amplified, remote work and digital nomadism are now uber-popular ways to make a living.

And one way you can appeal to this growing market’s demands is through offering access to shared physical spaces. These could be co-working environments (WeWork), private clubs (Soho House), or other communal settings, with a simple business model: membership = access.

Soho House website screenshot
Soho House offers access to physical spaces around the world on a membership basis.

7. Personalized Shopping Clubs

The aim of personalized shopping clubs is to offer members curated product selections and – through leveraging data-driven insights and sophisticated algorithms – serve up recommendations tailored to each shoppers’ interests, preferences, and behavior.

Personalized shopping clubs, as a membership business model, cater to a litany of common consumer pain points: including overchoice, decision fatigue, and not having the time to discover the products and brands most relevant to their needs.

Some brands already embracing the power of personalized shopping memberships include:

  • Stitch Fix: after completing style profiles, members benefit from personalized fashion items sent directly to their door.
  • Amazon Prime Wardrobe: curates clothing selections based on members’ preferences and previous purchases.
Stitch Fix website screenshot
Stitch Fix is a personalized shopping club that allows its members to complete style profiles – before benefiting from tailored products sent to their doorstep.

8. Healthcare and Telemedicine Memberships

Just as consumers’ ways of shopping, working, and exercising are all evolving, so are the ways in which they approach healthcare.

And, as a membership business model, healthcare has many benefits: from remote consultations and telemedicine to access to a comprehensive range of health services. Accessible, cost-effective, and convenient, medicinal membership models enable timely, specialized care – particularly for patients suffering from long-term, chronic illnesses.

Some businesses already using this membership model to great effect include:

  • Teladoc Health: a company offering telemedicine services such as virtual doctor visits, mental health support, and chronic care management.
  • Curology: provides personalized skincare products and solutions through online consultations with leading dermatologists.
  • Parsley Health: offers holistic medical care memberships – combining primary care with customized wellness plans and telemedicine services.
Teladoc Health website screenshot
Teladoc Health offers its subscribers virtual doctor visits, mental health support, and chronic care management services.

9. Community and Networking Memberships

Networking and community-building play a pivotal role in professional and personal development. These connections offer opportunities for knowledge exchange, collaboration, support, and mentorship – and, as a membership business model, you can tap into the benefits they bring to your brand and bottom line.

These communities could be online only, or involve getting professionals together physically to meet and share their experiences. They could also be limited strictly to certain industries: designed to bring experts together for conferences, webinars, and networking events.

Examples of established membership businesses doing this include:

  • LinkedIn: a social media platform with an array of networking features.
  • Meetup: enables individuals to create and join in-person events based on shared interests and professional associations.
  • Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC): brings together young, business-minded people for networking and mentorship opportunities.
Rob Binns LinkedIn profile website screenshot
LinkedIn enables professionals to connect with like-minded individuals. Like me!

10. Charitable and Social Impact Memberships

In an era marked by heightened consumer consciousness of social and ethical issues – businesses that prioritize social impact are thriving. Consumers increasingly want to do business with companies that go beyond profit; and that have a tangible impact on society and the environment.

The charitable and social impact membership business model is, in turn, thriving. Businesses that use it often set themselves apart by allocating a portion of the subscription fee they pay to support nonprofits, and practice sustainability and ethical marketing.

Some of the membership-based companies synthesizing profit with purpose include:

  • TOMS: the footwear company pioneered the “One for One” model: where for every pair of shoes sold, they donate a pair to a child in need.
  • Warby Parker: combines affordable eyewear with a strong social impact mission.
  • Patagonia: actively supports environmental causes and encourages responsible consumerism – encouraging its customers, through its “Worn Wear” program, to trade in goods they no longer need for discounts; and decreasing landfill reliance.
TOMS website screenshot
For every pair of shoes sold, TOMS donates another to charity – so it’s an excellent example of a membership-based business model with a social and charitable focus.

Best Membership Models: Summary

To recap, let’s quickly go over the 10 membership business models we’ve covered here:

  1. Subscription box services
  2. Online learning platforms
  3. Exclusive content and media
  4. Fitness and wellness memberships
  5. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) memberships
  6. Access to physical spaces
  7. Personalized shopping clubs
  8. Healthcare and telemedicine memberships
  9. Community and networking memberships
  10. Charitable and social impact memberships

Which one you choose to build a brand and livelihood on will depend on a range of factors: including your budget, the current industry ecommerce trends, and your ideal target audience, as well as where your existing expertise and experience lies.

Don’t simply close your eyes, hover your finger over the list of membership business models we’ve laid out above, and settle on whichever it ends up coming down on. Choose your membership business model carefully, and – if you do – profits should soon follow.

Once you’ve chosen your model, look at our list of membership website ideas next, to see how you can put your model into action!

FAQs

When it comes to building websites, the easiest – and quickest – way to get started is with a website builder. As per our comprehensive in-house research here at Website Builder Expert (it is, after all, in our name) the best website builders are Wix (rated 4.8 out of 5 in our overall rankings), Squarespace (4.7), Shopify (4.3), and GoDaddy (4.2). If in doubt, check out our complete guide to Squarespace Membership Area for examples, tips, and detailed setup steps!
Picking the right website builder is only a single part of the membership website-building process: one that includes developing a content marketing strategy, exploring monetization strategies, and marketing your membership website to your target audience.

For a full, 10-step breakdown of how to create a membership website, our guide will help!

Written by:
I’ve written for brands and businesses all over the world – empowering everyone from solopreneurs and micro-businesses to enterprises to some of the ecommerce industry’s best-known brands: including Yahoo!, Ecwid, and Entrepreneur. My commitment for the future is to empower my audience to make better, more effective decisions: whether that’s helping you pick the right platform to build your website with, the best hosting provider for your needs, or offering recommendations as to what – and how – to sell.

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