The Step By Step Process For Creating A Subscription

Step by Step Process for Creating A Subscription Business

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know I've been sharing lots of tips for creating a subscription-based business – from the tools I use to run my own business to the lessons I've learned running a successful subscription business over the past couple of years. But one of the questions I've gotten from a number of people in the past few weeks when it comes to launching your own subscription business is “where do I start?” So today I'm breaking down the step by step process for creating a subscription business and there's even a handy roadmap at the end of this post!

The Step By Step Process For Creating A Subscription

1) Your Idea

The first step in creating a subscription-based business is forming your subscription idea! Brainstorm potential subscription ideas by thinking about the products / services that you currently offer – can you turn them into a subscription by offering them / charging for them on a recurring basis? What other resources could you create on an ongoing basis to help your audience? Is there anything your audience has been asking for? What problems do they have and how can you help solve them consistently?

Once you've brainstormed for a bit, take a hard look at all of the ideas that you've come up with and determine if there is any one in particular that stands out. This is an ideal time to do some market research and see if there are other subscriptions that currently exist that are similar to your idea. If so, think about how your subscription will be different. If not, think about why that might be – is there actually a market for your subscription?

After you've done some market research, you can start to define your subscription idea in more detail. Who is it for? What problem are you solving? How are you solving that problem and how often will you be solving it? What are the specific features and benefits of your subscription?

2) Validating Your Idea

The reason most subscription businesses fail is because people don't take time to really understand their market and validate their idea! Don't waste your time pouring your heart and effort into creating something that YOU think is amazing… without knowing that it's something that YOUR AUDIENCE actually wants. Before you go any further, start taking steps to validate your idea. Talk to (real living, breathing) people in your target audience and ask if it's something they'd be interested in. Survey your audience or create a scaled down, free sample version of your subscription to gauge interest. Grab our free guide to validating your subscription idea and PLEASE do not skip this step if you want your subscription to be successful!

3) Positioning Your Subscription

The next step in planning your subscription business is thinking about how you will be positioning your subscription as part of your overall product / service offerings and your brand. If you are planning on running your subscription in addition to offering services or selling other products you will want to think about how your subscription fits into the mix. Will it complement your existing products / services? Can you position it as an up-sell, down-sell, or cross-sell to your current audience? Will you be confusing your audience be creating something different (and if so, how can you minimize that confusion)?

You'll also want to think about your subscription from a branding perspective – will you be creating a separate sub-brand for your subscription? A separate website? This can be as simple or as complicated as you make it  – at a minimum, you'll need to name your subscription but you could also be creating a full blown custom membership site with all the branding bells + whistles. There's not a single “right” way to create a subscription but you do need to think about how you are going to position your subscription offer in relation to your business.

4) Deciding on Tech + Tools

Once you've figured out your positioning, you can start thinking about what tech and tools you'll need to set up your subscription. If you're keeping things simple, you might just need a landing page (I love Bluchic's drag + drop landing page templates) and simple tool like SendOwl to take payments and deliver your content on a regular basis. I initially started my subscription business using SendOwl but eventually upgraded to create a full membership site on WordPress using the MemberPress plugin for payment and subscription management. If your subscription involves live video, you might invest in a tool like Zoom and if you're planning on delivering educational content, you might need video hosting through a service like Vimeo or you could use a teaching platform like Teachable to host your content. If you plan to have a community aspect included in your subscription, you might need a forum solution like bbPress, an all-in-one platform like Mighty Networks, or you could create a private Facebook group or Slack hub for discussion. You may also need a payment processor like PayPal / Stripe and an email marketing tool like ConvertKit (what I personally use) to communicate with your subscribers.

There are so so many different ways to run a subscription and so so many different tools to help you do it – and again, it can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. Most tools have an option for a free trial so you can see if they are right for you, and don't forget – nothing is set in stone. You can start with sometime simple and upgrade over time once you're subscription is bringing in more recurring revenue!

You may also like: Essential Tools I Use to Run My Subscription-Based Business

5) Pricing Your Subscription

Ohhh pricing. It's a tricky thing. And there's definitely not a single “right” price for your subscription. You have to think about how much money you want to make, how much money you need to spend, and how much work you want to put into running your subscription – but ultimately your subscription should be priced based on the value that your subscribers are going to receive. Think about what it would “cost” them to solve their problem without you – not just the actual money they might spend to invest in alternatives, but also the time or stress of trying to figure out things for themselves. Assuming you are helping your subscribers or making their lives easier in some way – what is that worth for THEM?

Your pricing doesn't need to be set in stone – in fact, I actually recommend starting your pricing on the lower end of the range that you think it should be and then raising it over time as you grow your subscribers and grow the value of your subscription.

6) Pre-selling Your Subscription

You may be thinking that you should be creating your content before you get to this step but that's exactly what you should NOT do! Unless you 1) have a large audience who already knows / likes / trusts you AND 2) have already validated your offer by creating and selling an MVP, then I recommend pre-selling before you start creating the actual content for it. Why? Because even if you think people are interested in subscribing – even if they've signed up for a waitlist or told you to your face – you don't REALLY know if people are willing to invest in it until they actually hand over the $$$. 

To be able to successfully pre-sell your subscription, you need to have completed steps 1-5 but you don't actually need to have created any of the content yet. You can pre-sell by telling your audience about your subscription and offering them the opportunity to subscribe before you actually launch. Typically pre-selling involves some sort of incentive for your early subscribers to encourage them to join – whether that's discounted subscription fees, bonuses, or other incentives, you need to give people a reason to take advantage of your offer now (rather than later).

7) Creating Your Content

Now to the fun part – creating your content! One of the questions I often get asked is “how much content do I need to launch?” and honestly, it depends! The short answer is you need a minimum of 1 month of content – so if you're creating videos / audio training / pdfs / templates / workbooks / photos / etc. on a monthly basis. you should have the first of content ready for immediate access when you launch. If you're creating a membership site or something with a lot of different resources, you probably want to have more than 1 resource when you launch (otherwise it's not super clear why someone would join to get access to just 1 thing). If you plan to have a community or forum as part of your subscription, you should have that set up before you launch as well.

You should also start thinking about your ongoing content plan – how often / when will you be delivering new content? How will you be letting your subscribers know that new content is available? What are your content plans for the next 3-6 months? This can obviously change as needed, but if you already have a plan for your content, it's going to be much easier to manage your subscription as it grows. For example, when I first launched my subscription, I was delivering 30 new photos on the 15th of every month and subscribers would get an email when new photos were available for download. It was a simple subscription and only took me 1 day per month to create content so I could always plan in advance. Now that we're delivering around 75 photos twice a month, we spend more time creating content (I've also raised my prices and hired help), but there's still a content schedule that keeps us on track and helps to streamline our workflow!

You may also like: 10 lessons from running a successful subscription-based business

8) Setting Up Content Delivery + Payment Systems

Now that you've got your content created, you need to set up delivery and payment systems. You should have already picked your tools + tech in step 4 so now it's just a matter of actually getting things set up. Regardless of whatever content delivery method you use, you want it to be easy for you set up AND easy for your subscribers to access. Yes, there might be a learning curve at first if you're using a particular tool or software for the first time, but don't overcomplicate things! You just need a way for people to pay you on a recurring basis and a way for them to receive something on a recurring basis. That's it!

9) Testing Your Systems

Once you've got your content delivery and payment systems set up, don't forget to test them! Pretend you are a new subscriber and go through the entire checkout process and make sure everything works. This is also a great time to set up automated welcome emails as part of your on-boarding, and make sure any other automations are in place (for example, you might want to tag your email subscribers when they become subscription members). Make sure to test everything before you launch!

10) Launching Your Subscription

Woohoo! Now you're ready to launch! Whether you are having an open / close launch period or an evergreen subscription, you want to make a BIG deal about your launch! Start a countdown to create buzz, tell your friends so they can cheer you on, throw a virtual party, get people excited about your new subscription, and pat yourself on the back!

So those are the 10 basic steps for creating a subscription offer. You can definitely make things more complicated (but why?) – you can always add or change things up, but don't let yourself get so caught up in doing #allthethings that it prevents you from actually launching!

If you're ready to get to work creating a subscription click here to learn more about how I can help you create, launch, and grow your subscription.

Essential Tools I Use to Run My Subscription-Based Business

Since I’ve been running the Styled Stock Society for 2+ years now, I’ve been sharing more about how I've launched and grown a subscription-based business over the past few weeks. I’ve talked about why you should create a subscription-based business and 10 lessons I’ve learned running my own subscription-based business. One of the most frequent questions I get from people who are interested in creating their own subscription-based business or membership site is – what tools do you use? I spent a lot of time researching and testing various tools before I landed on the ones I use today, so this post can definitely save you some time! These are the essential tools I use to run my subscription-based business:


First up – the membership site for the Styled Stock Society runs on WordPress. I’ve had various blogs and websites on WordPress for years so it was a pretty easy decision to use it as the content management system for my subscription-based business. Using WordPress as a CMS basically means having total flexibility – which can be both good and bad – but ultimately, I wanted a platform that would allow for unlimited customization and scalability so it just made the most sense!

Pricing: While WordPress is totally free, I also pay for hosting through Siteground as well as a customized theme build on the Genesis Framework. If you’re looking for a feminine WordPress theme, I also love Bluchic’s themes (I use one for this website)!


To actually run my membership, I use the MemberPress plugin. I researched a ton of different membership plugins and ultimately decided on MemberPress for several reasons. After using a different platform to run my subscription-based business for the first 9 months, I was looking for a platform that had certain features:

    • Multiple membership tiers with automated billing – having multiple tiers / price levels to a membership was important to me but MemberPress even takes things a step further by giving you the option to set up membership trials (great for increasing retention), membership groups (an awesome option so that members can upgrade / downgrade their membership type), and subscription management (so that members can update / change / pause / cancel their plans from their own dashboards).
    • Flexible access rules – I wanted a plugin that could restrict content based on multiple membership types, and MemberPress allows you easily restrict posts, pages, categories, or other files based on memberships.
    • Integration with both Stripe and PayPal – not all membership plugins work with both and I knew I wanted to give members both payment gateway options.
    • Integration with ConvertKit – I knew whatever plugin I used needed to be compatible with my email marketing software. Email integration was extremely important to me because I wanted to be able to automate tagging, segmenting, and communicating with my members! You can find a full list of integrations here in case you use a different email marketing service.
  • Easy to use – since I was initially running everything by myself, I needed a plugin that wasn’t going to be super complicated to set up. All of the reviews I read consistently said MemberPress was easy to set up and I was able to get my membership set up in a day without any help!

Pricing: MemberPress pricing starts at $129 / year which is relatively affordable compared to other membership plugins that can be $99+ per month!


I’ve used ConvertKit for all of my email marketing communication over the past few years, but it’s definitely a key tool that allows me to run my membership smoothly. Since ConvertKit integrates with MemberPress, I’m able to tag new members when then join, when they become affiliates, and when they cancel their subscription. I’m also able to tag my email subscribers who have expressed interest in joining the Styled Stock Society (by clicking on certain link triggers) and tailor my marketing emails more specifically to them.

ConvertKit also makes it easy for me to send automated sequences. For example, when new members are tagged, they receive an automated welcome sequence and member cancellations occur, they receive an automated cancellation survey so I can better understand why they decided to leave the membership. These automations are so powerful in increasing member retention and reducing churn so I definitely think ConvertKit is a key tool in running my subscription-based business.

Pricing: ConvertKit starts at $29/month if you have less than 1,000 subscribers and goes up from there. Since I was already using ConvertKit for my email marketing before I started my subscription-based business, I don’t really consider it an “extra” expense, but it’s well worth the investment to have email automations in place!

Affiliate Royale

When it comes to growing my subscription-based business, one of the strategies I use is affiliate marketing. Affiliate Royale is a WordPress plugin that integrates directly with MemberPress making it SUPER easy to set up. Because it is a plugin, it also integrates directly with our membership site – so affiliates don’t have to go to a separate website to login to their affiliate dashboard – and maintains a consistent look and feel with the rest of the Styled Stock Society brand. A lot of other affiliate solutions are hosted on separate sites and/or ugly with limited customization options, so having an affiliate marketing solution that seamlessly integrated with the other tools I was already using for my subscription-based business is definitely a plus!

Affiliate Royale allows me to set custom commission rates for different members, different products, and different membership types as well as easily monitor and track affiliate clicks, sales, and payments. You can completely customize your affiliate dashboard and any affiliate resources. Since Affiliate Royale also integrates with ConvertKit, I can easily tag affiliates and send them an automated welcome sequence as well as other affiliate marketing tips!

Pricing: Affiliate Royale was actually included with my MemberPress license, but if you purchase it separately, it’s only $85 and you don’t have to pay monthly fees or a percentage of affiliate sales like some other affiliate marketing tools.

Other tools I’ve tried + don’t use

I’ve also used or trialed a number of other tools that I either 1) don’t currently use any more or 2) decided not to use – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were bad!

    • SendOwl – if you’re setting up a simple subscription-based business where you are delivering a digital download every month, this is an easy, affordable tool to use to run a subscription-based business. I actually used SendOwl before I created a full membership site – it’s a great option if you have less than 50 products / 10 subscriptions and don’t want to create a separate membership site to deliver content.
    • MemberMouse – this is another WordPress membership plugin that gets great reviews across the board. I did an initial trial and honestly found it more complicated to set up vs. MemberPress and it’s also more expensive ($99+ / month) for the advanced features. If you’re willing to invest a little time to get it set up and want advanced features like automated downsells and split price testing (great to have but not “necessary” to run a subscription-based business), then this plugin is definitely worth looking into!
  • Tapfiliate – is a popular affiliate marketing software that I’ve used in the past, and honestly I loved it. It’s definitely a more sophisticated marketing software, but it also comes with a price ($149/month for pro features). If affiliate marketing is your primary marketing strategy for your subscription, investing in a tool like Tapfiliate might be worth it, but for my business, using a plugin that directly integrated with my membership plugin AND my website branding just made more sense!

So those are the primary tools to run my subscription-based business. There are a few other advanced tools I use as part of my marketing, but they definitely aren't essential! If you’ve been thinking about starting your own subscription-based business, check out this post for 12 subscription ideas for online business owners.

10 Lessons From Running a Successful Subscription-Based Business

10 lessons from running a successful subscription based business
Last week I shared 5 reasons you should create a subscription-based offer and got so many messages from people in my community who are eager to add recurring revenue to their businesses too! While recurring revenue is definitely one of the perks of having a subscription-based business, there are a lot of things I didn’t know about running a subscription based business before I created the Styled Stock Society so I thought I’d share 10 lessons that I’ve learned from running a successful subscription-based business for the past couple of years.

1) It can be as simple or as complicated as you make it.

When it comes to subscription-based businesses, a lot of people automatically think of subscription boxes (of physical products) or membership sites – but there are a ton of different ways to create subscription-based revenue. You could literally do something as simple as charge people to receive an email every month (I’ve done this!) or something as complicated as creating a whole membership site with videos / pdfs / tools / resources / live training AND a whole community (wayyy more work).

I shared 12 different ideas in this post, but the point is – there’s not a single “right” way to run a subscription-based business, and it really can be as simple or as complicated as you make it! Sure, the simple things are usually priced lower than more complex subscriptions, but ultimately the VALUE that you deliver is what matters to your subscribers.

2) You shouldn’t create a subscription-based offer without an audience to sell it to.

I know the idea of recurring revenue sounds pretty awesome to pretty much everyone, but if you’re just starting your business and haven’t built an audience / community / email list – I would tell you to focus on building an audience BEFORE you try to create and sell a subscription-based offer.

Unlike one-to-one services which don’t really require you to have an audience (you can be fully booked out based on relationships / referrals), you need some sort of audience to sell a subscription-based offer to. Build it and they will come is not a thing. Maybe if you have a ton of money to spend on ads and/or really amazing affiliate relationships to help you launch… but to continue to successfully grow your subscription, you need an audience. Not necessarily a HUGE audience (I only had 3,000-ish people on my email list when I initially launched mine), but when it comes to growing a subscription-based business, numbers matter!

3) You won’t make everyone happy.

If you’re used to working with clients one-on-one, you probably come from a place of trying to make all of your clients happy. #truth – when you run a subscription-based business, you won’t make everyone happy. Your subscription won’t be for everyone. Some people will join and be disappointed because it’s not what they need / want / expected. But that’s not (necessarily) your fault!

When you have a (lower priced) one-to-many offer, you are going to attract more people, and some of them won’t be the right fit. Even if your sales page is SUPER clear on who your offer is for, you are probably at some point going to end up with someone who isn’t 100% happy (since you’re not pre-qualifying people in the same way you do with one-to-one clients). And that’s ok. Really.

4) You will want to focus on growth when you should be focusing on retention.

Most people who want to start subscription-based businesses are drawn to them because of the idea of recurring revenue. But guess what – that revenue is only recurring if your subscribers continue their subscriptions! One thing that you always need to think about with a subscription-based business is your churn rate (the % of subscribers who leave during a given period). You could be getting new subscribers, but if your churn rate is higher than your growth rate, then you’re not really growing at all!

To run a successful subscription-based business, you need to focus on retention. That means knowing what your subscribers want and keeping them happy! Make sure that you’re regularly surveying your subscribers so that you know what’s working and what might need improvement.

5) People will unsubscribe and that’s totally normal.

At some point, most people will stop their subscriptions. They might try it for a month and leave. They might subscribe for 6 months / 1 year / 3 years / etc. but most people do not keep their subscriptions active “for life” (unless you have a lifetime subscription option). This doesn’t necessarily mean there was anything “wrong” – usually it just means that your subscription wasn’t an investment that they wanted to continue to prioritize in their life.

I recommend sending an “unsubscribe survey” asking people why they unsubscribed – it’s a great way to see if people are leaving because of financial / life changes or if it’s because they weren’t happy with their subscription. Most of the time when people leave the Styled Stock Society it’s either because they have all of the photos they need for the time being or for budget reasons – which is totally fine!

6) You need clear Terms and Conditions of Use + a Privacy Policy.

Technically, if you have any type of website, you should have Terms and Conditions of Use + a Privacy Policy in place, but it’s especially important when you have a subscription-based business. Clearly explaining the service you are providing, how you are handling recurring payments, how you handle your subscribers’ information, and covering all your legal bases can easily be done with a thorough GDPR-Compliant Terms and Conditions of Use + Privacy Policy. It’s not just smart – it’s a legal requirement!

I personally rely on The Contract Shop’s templates for #allthelegalthings and recommend this Terms and Conditions of Use + Privacy Policy template for anyone who sells digital products, courses, or other subscription-based resources. Trust me – when you’re taking recurring payments, you want to make sure you have all of your legal bases covered!

7) Pricing is complicated.

Pricing one-to-one services isn’t that hard if you know how much money you want to make, how much money you need to spend, and how much time you want to work. But pricing digital products like online courses or subscription-based offers (that aren’t physical products), is much more complicated. Because when you have a one-to-many offer, your pricing isn’t really related to your time.

You still have to think about how much money you want to make, how much money you need to spend to get and keep things up and running, and how much work you’re putting into it – but ultimately you can set prices based on the value that your target audience receives – and as you scale your business you can also scale your prices. When you first start a subscription-based business, you might price your offer on the lower end of the spectrum – partially to validate your offer, but also to leave room to grow. You can always raise your prices, but it’s awkward to lower them if you set the bar too high!

When I first started the Styled Stock Society, I intentionally kept my expenses as low as possible (I only spent $16 the first month on a bundle of pink peonies from a local deli that I used as a prop) – I didn’t even have a sales page or a website or a camera of my own (I literally borrowed one to start the business). But over time, I started investing more in the business, built a custom membership site, bought my own camera / lenses, and worked my way up to spending $1,000+ per month on related expenses. And of course – I’ve raised my prices too!

8) The more you grow, the more “maintenance” you’ll have to do.

When you only have a few clients at a time, you probably don’t have an inbox flooded with transaction notifications, support requests, prospective subscriber inquiries, and more. But imagine if you had 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 clients – that could lead to SO MUCH maintenance and communication!

There are a ton of different things that you can do to minimize the time spent in your inbox. For example, set up a FAQ page with answers to the questions you find yourself answering over and over again or create canned responses to frequent emails or set up automations so that when you have failed transactions (which WILL happen at some point with a recurring subscription), you have a system for handling them. Ultimately, just be prepared for more emails in your inbox – and I highly recommend 1) creating a separate email just for support requests and 2) hiring someone to handle those support requests if you can!

9) You’ll need to adapt as you grow.

Running a scalable subscription-based business can feel easy… except when it doesn’t. As your subscribers grow, you may have “growing pains” – you may realize that your sales platform doesn’t have all the capabilities you need or that your content distribution system needs to be refined or that your subscribers’ needs have changed over time. In short, you’ll need to adapt as you grow. And as frustrating as that can be, it’s also a good thing!

I personally had to change membership platforms when I outgrew the one I used to use (it was a pain to migrate hundreds of members, but worth it in the end), and have changed the way the subscription works (it started with delivering a simple 30 photos per month and eventually grew into a library with over 1,500 photos and 50+ new images added each month). All of the changes I’ve made to my subscription-based business over the past 2+ years were in order to provide a better member experience and improve retention rates (see #4) – if you don’t adapt to your subscribers’ needs, you might just get stuck on a plateau – or worse, your subscription might even fail!

10) It will force you to set a schedule.

Last but not least, running a subscription-based business forces you to adhere to a set schedule. If you’re used to winging it or playing tetris with your deadlines, you’ll need to get used to creating and delivering content on a set schedule! Because – as I mentioned in my previous post, recurring revenue comes with a recurring obligation to deliver value to your subscribers.

I’m VERY motivated by deadlines – so running a subscription-based business where I know that I have to deliver new stock photos on the 15th of every month makes it easy for me to plan all of my work in advance and streamline my workflows.

So those are 10 lessons I’ve learned from running a successful subscription-based business over the past couple of years – #realtalk, it hasn’t always been easy – but creating a subscription has allowed me to work less while earning a consistent recurring income so it’s all been worth it!