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Revenue streams for online community

5 strategies on how to implement revenue for your online community. Learn pro's and con's of each method and how to implement them.

Anna Grigoryan
Anna Grigoryan
7 min read
Revenue streams for online community

Let's say you decided to monetize a community. Which is great, but what are your options? What is suitable for your members and your market niche? How to do sales to your members or brands?

Today I'll share my thoughts on existing business models and of course implementation methods. The goal of this article is:

  • To show you various monetization strategies for your community.
  • Help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of those strategies.
  • Show a clear path of implementation those strategies for your community.

Lifetime access

Who is using this option:

  • Course creators,
  • Premium content creators,
  • Consultants,
  • Agencies,
  • Production companies.

I'm surprised that this business model is not popular. It's the easiest to implement, especially for premium content. Community in this case is becoming a feature in a package deal.

The deal usually includes lifetime access to the content and or private consultation for the creator.

Advantages of community lifetime access option:

Here are some advantages of lifetime access monetization option for communities:

  • Easy to organize - you most likely don't need a huge third-party system to organize it.
  • Cheap to organize - if you don't have third-party integrations then you're not paying transaction fees and subscription fees for the tools.
  • Easy to sell - you're not selling a community in this case. Community in general is very hard to sell. In this case you're selling a package: your knowledge, your expertise and your content first. Content comes first, community comes second.

Disadvantages of community lifetime access option:

Here are some disadvantages of lifetime access monetization option for communities:

  • You need to be an "internet personality". With a lot of monetization options you need to be someone well knows on the internet. You need to have big following that not only engaging with your content, but also buying that content.
  • Takes a lot of time to get to the selling point . You don't only need to be an internet personality, but also have credibility to charge premium fees. That often means sharing a lot of free content.

Implementation

One of the best tool investments for me in 2020 was Tally.

Why consider Tally:

  • You can charge in form itself.
  • You have in built integration with Airtable, Notion, Google Sheets.
  • It's very easy to use and they have very regular updates.

Another one can be Involved.me.

Why consider Involve me:

  • You can charge in form itself,
  • You have built in integrations with 10+ platforms like Convert kit, Drip, Airtable and more,
  • You can charge not only one-time fees but also subscriptions in the form. This feature is really rare in the forms,
  • You can build quizzes and personality tests with the platform, which is very good driver of engagement.

Subscription

This type is popular for content creators who try to make connection point for their audience. One more way to expand the mediums of their content (e.g. from blogging to member-only podcast).

Another case for subscription based communities is community as a feature in one of the pricing plans for SaaS tool.

Selling solely a community is pretty hard. Just because it's hard to explain how the "1:1 connections" and "exclusive AMA's with important people" are worth $X/month. A lot of things are already free on the internet, so creating that justification to add one more subscription per month it's hard.

The most successful subscription based communities I've seen are:

  • Ridiculously low priced for their value (NessLabs),
  • Provide everything in one simple Yearly or Quarterly plan (Software Ideas).

Also don't forget that less than 10% of your current audience will actually convert during your launch or transition.

Advantages of community subscription option

Here are some advantages of subscription-based monetization option for communities:

  • Recurring revenue - a constant revenue you get for your community, which actually is making your business scalable.

Disadvantages of community subscription option:

Here are some disadvantages of subscription-based monetization option for communities:

  • More is more - you actually need to give up more control and creativity. Why? If your topic is not broad enough it's going to be hard to integrate new themes and expand. If I'm subscribed for math I'm not going to want chemistry.
  • Burning out - creator burn-out is not a new concept. However, in recent years more and more people start to talk about it openly. Having a pressure to put out certain units of content on a consistent schedule can be draining. Remember you don't need to monetize all of your hobbies.

Implementation

I feel like people overcomplicate the subscription management side of things. Let's remember oldie but gold tools and platforms that actually care about their creators like Patreon.

Why consider Patreon:

  • Familiar brand and people most likely already know how it works,
  • Has community features like: posting blogs, podcasts, videos, livestreaming connections with YouTube and Crowdcast.
  • If you don't want to rely on Patreon for community it rolled out integration with Discord recently.
  • You can choose to send blog post notifications to the emails of your members, which also doubles as newsletter management platform.

Other competitors of Patreon are: Buy me a coffee, Ko-fi and more.

For more sophisticated set up you can check out "Community Building Stacks" blog post.

Sponsorship

The most cheeky one. The one that is implemented with a lot of cringes telemarket-like advertisements on YouTube videos or blogs. However, it's a mistake to dismiss this revenue stream. Honestly, rarely see a good implementation of this option. The one that comes to mind is Not boring which is more of a newsletter then a community. Community sponsorships are hard to do right.

One of the good ways to implement ad-based revenue stream is to ask your members, subscribers, audience who they like. What I discovered during the monetization of my newsletter, people don't care about the paid sponsorship, if it's something useful. It's okay to ask the subscribers what products they use or would like to use. Sponsorship is often not just a link in the text it's also a coupon code or some kind of discount.

Advantages of community sponsorships

Here are some advantages of ad-based monetization option for communities:

  • The size doesn't matter - this revenue streams is the one that's not prioritizing the size of the audience. Engagement and communication with the audience is often more important. If you have 100 people but the content you provide is niche, your community has as many chances to pick up sponsors has big celebrities' even more. Micro creators are having a true moment right now.
  • The first one is the hardest - the hardest part is to make your first sale. And when you did and completed the contract it's becoming easier to book others based on an example. It may take a while to get there, but it's worth the road.

Disadvantages of community sponsorships

Here are some disadvantages of ad-based monetization option for communities:

  • Lawyer up - for the first few transactions you may be able to do everything alone. However, as the numbers rise and sponsors become bigger, you'll need to very meticulously inspect each point in you collaboration.
  • You will be screwed over - the biggest disadvantage of this option is that it's thriving on silence. Sponsors don't disclose their budgets, creators don't disclose their rates and contract terms. Which creates an environment where you can be taken advantage of just because companies and creators don't talk about this. It's hard to be transparent with your actions and demand transparency just because it will destroy the industry.

Implementation

Unfortunately, there's no one size fits solution for sponsorships. One of the best ways to start talking to companies is to use Sponsorgap, Intravert or BuySellAds. Other than these tools it's still very little spoken and debunked about this industry.

Not more, but different

For content-led communities, it's usual to have a newsletter, blog or podcast attached to the community. When trying to monetize your community that already has a consistent content pipeline this strategy might work for you. Instead of creating more content for your paid members you can provide them with the same content in the different medium. For example - if there's a blog, the same content can be in a form of podcast episodes.

Advantages of monetizing a different medium

Here are some advantages monetizing community through different mediums:

  • You don't have to create more content. There's no need to create a separate content strategy for your new podcast, event series or live shows. Just transform what you have into another medium. This strategy also gives you a creative strategy to add original private content without a hard schedule.
  • 1 piece of content can be used as paid and as free. Besides adding new mediums you can also have private parts of a free content. For example you can have a long interview for 1 hours half of which will be free, another half only for paid members.

Disadvantages of monetizing a different medium

Here are some disadvantages monetizing community through different mediums:

  • More promotion. When adding a new medium it adds a new workload of promotion.
  • Decision fatigue. You'll need to decide which parts of the same content will be paid and which will be free. Which is a challenge.

Implementation

I feel like I'm promoting Descript everywhere, but am I at fault if their product is so good? I like Descript because it helps to streamline processes with audio content:

  • You get transcription of your audio. The transcription can be easily converted to article or newsletter issue.
  • You can create audio clips and audiograms directly in the Descript for promotion.
  • With the higher price plan you can use their Overdub which is creating an audio from your voice sample. So you can create podcast from your article without even recording it yourself.

Extra layer of help can be achieved with Headliner. You can use it to create beautiful audiograms. Also for your private podcast you can use Transistor, which provides robust analytics.

Here's a great tutorial by the founder of Transistor on how to record and publish an episode with Descript and Transistor.

Too long don't read (or listen)

Every other day a new tool is launched for creators to create more content. However, there are not enough tools for readers and fans to consume the content more mindfully and discover new creators. This is why TL;DR can be a unique monetization strategy. This strategy can come also with a curated knowledge library or resource hub covering the community niche.

Advantages of TL;DR monetization strategy

Here are some advantages monetizing community through different mediums:

  • No need for additional content. With this monetization strategy you essentially curate yourself.
  • Create knowledge hub for your community. The hub will not only help your members discover new interesting content in the niche, but also can be a resource that members rely on for quality and vetted content.

Disadvantage of TL;DR monetization strategy

Honestly, I thought about this hard, and can't find any disadvantages.

Implementation

One of the easiest ways to implement this is to use Airtable or Notion.

  • You can monetize your Airtable base by using Paytable.
  • You can also create private Notion by integrating with Memberspace as it's shown in the tutorial.
  • You can create a private digest by using Mailbrew and curate different resources.

I've talked about content curation as a business in my recent article.

Anna Grigoryan

Profiling Creator Economy. Ex SmartGateVc, ex Armenia Startup Academy.