GET MY TOP TOOLS + RESOURCES

BUSINESS STRATEGY

How to validate your subscription business idea

Before you get started creating your subscription-based offer, you have to validate your idea. Here are 6 things you can do to validate it.

Creating a subscription-based offer was literally the thing that changed my business and enabled me to work fewer hours while earning a more consistent recurring revenue.

But BEFORE you get started creating your subscription-based offer, you HAVE TO validate 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.

The beauty of a subscription-based offer is being able to serve multiple people through one offer… so unlike one-to-one services where you don't really need an audience to be successful, you actually need to be able to attract and retain a larger number of people in order for your subscription to succeed. 

This post includes tips for validating your offer and when to know if you need to refine your subscription idea or move forward!

There are a number of different ways to validate your idea – and I recommend using MULTIPLE ways to ensure that you are on the right track! But… if you're only going to do one of these, make sure its #6 – seriously, it's the MOST helpful option!

1) Chat with real people about your idea.

Speak with at least 5 people in your audience (who are NOT your close friends or family) who you think would be a good fit for your offer. 

-Ask them what they struggle with when it comes to the topic that your subscription is based on – does your offer specifically address this struggle?

-Tell them about your offer and ask for their feedback – try to get them to tell you specifically what is attractive about your idea and what could make it better. 

-Ask them if your idea is something they would (hypothetically) be willing to pay for on an ongoing basis – if you've thought about pricing, you can get specific feedback on where you think your offer should be priced OR you can ask what they would expect to pay for a subscription like the one you want to create. 

If you find that your idea doesn’t resonate with the people that you’re speaking with, you need to refine it before moving forward. 

2) Create a simple, scaled-down version of your subscription offer for free.

Creating a free “sample” of your subscription is a great way to validate your idea if you are still building your audience. 

For example, for my stock photo membership, I offered a set of 10 free stock photos that subscribers can download for free. If you plan to sell templates, create a template that you can offer for free. If you plan to sell education / training / etc, create a short video or free course that you can offer for free. If you plan to sell a paid membership community, create a free Facebook group and invite people to join. 

If you can’t get at least 100 people to sign up for your FREE offer within a relatively short period of time, you need to refine your idea.

3) Survey your audience.

Ask your email list, Facebook group, or other personal community to indicate whether they are interested in your offer. 

Run a poll, create a survey, or create custom email tags to gauge interest in your idea.

If a significant percentage of your community doesn’t indicate interest in your offer, then you need to refine your idea.

4) Create a waitlist for your offer.

If you're fairly confident in your subscription idea, you can create a simple sales page for your offer – but instead of giving people the option to “buy now” you give them the option to “get on the waitlist” to be the first to know when your offer is live. This is an easy way for people in your audience to indicate whether or not they are interested.

If only a few people sign up for your waitlist, that may be a sign that you need to refine your idea.

5) Pre-sell your subscription

Any time you launch a new digital product – whether it's a subscription / membership / course / or any other time intensive offer, I recommend pre-selling. You don't know for sure that people are ACTUALLY willing to pay you for your offer until they do it.

Pre-sell your subscription at a discounted rate (or offer a bonus) to subscribers who join before it “officially” launches. This is a great way to validate your idea because by pre-selling, people are literally paying you to create it – and you don't have to waste time creating something that people don't want!

If you don't get enough pre-sales to move forward with your launch, you can simply refund any sales that you made and move on to your next idea.

6) Create a minimum viable product (MVP).

Last but not least, the BEST way to validate your subscription idea is to actually create AND sell a simplified version of your subscription.

I recommend (paid) beta testing or creating an MVP because not only do you get a real sense of whether or not people are willing to hand over their hard-earned $$$ to you, but you also get the opportunity to get feedback from your beta testers / early subscribers.

Depending on your subscription idea you might…

-Offer a limited number of beta testers the opportunity to subscribe at a discounted rate in exchange for providing feedback

-Create a simplified MVP version of your subscription (without spending time on branding / a fancy sales page / complicated tech setup), and offer it for a limited time. To create an MVP, you just need a solution to a problem, a way to deliver the solution, and a way for people to pay you!

If you can’t get 1-2% of your audience to take advantage of your MVP offer, that may be a sign that you need to refine your idea.

Validating your subscription business idea

So those are 6 ways to validate your subscription business idea (or really any new business idea), but like I said, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND validating by creating an MVP. Instead of waiting for your subscription to be “perfect” (it won't be), get your idea out into the world and then use your subscriber's feedback to make it better.

Ready to create your subscription but not sure where to start? Grab our handy subscription roadmap!


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.

Subscription Creation Roadmap

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 you can download our handy Subscription Creation Roadmap below or click here to learn more about Revenue on Repeat – my program to help you create, launch, and grow your subscription.

Subscription Creation Roadmap

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:

WordPress

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)!

MemberPress

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!

ConvertKit

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 and download your subscription creation roadmap below!

Subscription Creation Roadmap