Article - Revenue: Using Subscriptions/Upgraded membership
Once an online community's bills go beyond the normal range of a hobbyist, the questions that tend to come up most often are these: Can I re-coop my funds in some way through my forums? Can I make a living?
This article of ideas isn't necessarily for those who own forums that are on the small side. Small forums on shared servers and small hosting plans won't necessarily need funds to cover their costs because their out of pocket expenses may not be exorbitant. They could also damage their community if upgraded memberships became a source of issue within the small group.
But if your forums grow and you find yourself needing a dedicated server with plenty of bandwidth and have too much traffic for your means, you will find yourself wondering if have to get a second job to pay for your online community's traffic.
There is more than one way to raise the needed funds to keep your website online, pay its bills and perhaps earn some profit. Here is one way:
Unless you have content that is extremely valuable that you can lock up the and charge for access, I don't suggest you charge each member to use your site. I have heard of websites that closed their forums except to paying members and within a few months their community was gone.
Voluntary subscriptions is one idea that I've found successful for my forums.
Your registered member will need basic features to their membership in order to understand how the community works. If you cut them off from all features, there is no understanding of what they *might* have if they upgraded.
Your upgraded members should be given added features for their subscription payment.
Built in Features like:
Added PM space
Ability to use attachments
Ability to use avatars
Ability to create a custom title
photo gallery usage
I'm sure there are other benefits you can provide for your community that might be connected to your community's niche. Listen to your community to discover the most attractive upgrade package.
Once you've made the decision to create a membership upgrade package, what next?
Make your plan:
1. Set the permissions for this special usergroup in preparation. Test the settings to make sure they are functioning with your forums software. I use vbulletin because of the ease of adjusting usergroup permissions without disturbing other usergroups.
2. Decide on a cost. Depending on your communities demographics this might be 2.00 per month or might be 50.00 per year (or more!) Decide if your members will pay by the month (harder to keep track of) or by the year.
3. Decide on a payment method. Easiest might be using your paypal account which can be set up for a monthly payment schedule or yearly payments. Gateways like authorizenet could be set up easily with a merchant account.
4. Decide on manual upgrades or automatic integrations. The first few years of my forums membership upgrades were handled manually. Its do-able and is possible to handle without it being overwhelming. But be forewarned, it can get complicated! There are integrated solutions that can be added to your forum for auto-payments using credit cards from without the user's control panel (and SSL to encypt the pages for security). Click to upgrade and the member is taken to a page for payment and their user control panel has an area that reminds them of their usergroup status. This solution does take some customizations but is worth the added effort for ease of use for member and admin.
5. Decide on link placement and advertising. After all, you want your members to know all about the upgraded membership level that is available. Consider putting your upgraded membership link on your forum home page within the forum name links. Add it to your header. Put it in their postbit. Advertise it. And for goodness sakes, don't be afraid to tell your members that their membership upgrades helps to keep the website free for all and helps cover those bills.
6. Decide on a launch date. Once you have your plan all set, make a splash about the upgraded membership levels. Make an announcement and invite your members to join. Members of a forums who feel a part of the community will love to participate if they can. They want to be a part of the solution to curb the costs to keep their community intact.
There are other means for earning money to cover the costs of running a large website with an active community. Voluntary subscriptions by providing upgraded memberships is one idea that could be an answer to your dilemma of needed funds.
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