Online subscription businesses give you a predictable income while giving your customers valuable products, information, or services. Subscriptions are nothing new—your customers pay a recurring price (monthly or seasonally) in return for the services or products they asked for. But with the fresh popularity of subscription boxes and the ease of setting up a subscription business online, now’s a great time to create a new cash flow avenue for your company. What does it take to make this business model successful? With a well-thought out plan and great marketing, you’ll be on your way to building up your customer base and delivering awesome products.
Planning the Business
1. Come up with a subscription idea that you feel passionate about. This could be a subscription business based around fitness, food, clothing, books—you name it! It’s important that you’re truly passionate about your idea so that you’ll want to continuously think of new ideas for your subscription’s topic.
- For example, you might decide to start a yard maintenance subscription business where people choose how often they’d like their lawn mowed or their gardens tended. You might create an art subscription business where you find a few great pieces of art each season and send them to your subscribers.
2. Decide what you’ll offer customers to make you stand out. For your subscription business to be successful and become popular, think of what you’ll be able to give customers that they can’t get anywhere else. This could be a customized set of items, expert advice, or an item or experience that only works through the subscription method.
- For instance, maybe you offer a curated selection of online articles from writers around the world on specific topics.
3. Research your market and competitors to give yourself an edge. Once you’ve figured out who you want to market your business to, start researching and talking to them. Find out what type of trends there are and if there’s anyone else out there who has a business similar to yours so you can learn from their platform. Create an image of who your target customer will be with the information you’ve gathered so you can better market to them.
- If you’re starting a magazine subscription business, you might look up other magazine subscription businesses to see how their website looks or what they offer. Research and learn from potential customers by talking to friends or coworkers or sending out surveys or polls. For example, your target customer might be a woman between the ages of 20 and 30 with an interest in gardening or sustainable living.
4. Offer 2 or 3 different subscription packages to appeal to more customers. Instead of just having one option that customers have to pick, offer several so they feel like they have more of a choice. You might create different subscriptions that range in price or offer different things so the customer can choose the one that is right for them.
- For example, you might have a mini subscription box for $25 that has 6 things in it and a regular subscription box for $50 that has 14 things in it. You might give an option where the customer can select their own items at a higher price.
5. Decide on a price that makes a profit while also giving the customer a discount. Figure out a good price point by calculating what your subscription offerings would cost if they were purchased individually. Tally up how much money you’ll spend on each subscription yourself, and this will help you choose a price that gives you a profit while also making sure the customer is always getting a discount.
- It’s likely that you might change your pricing a little as your business grows or you figure things out, so don’t worry too much about keeping it set in stone. Make sure your price reflects the quality of your subscription offerings.
6. Use an ecommerce platform to keep track of your subscription orders. While you may be able to do this through your email or your website, using an ecommerce platform online can be a helpful way of organizing all of your orders. There are lots of different platforms to choose from, such as BigCommerce or Shopify, if you do decide to use one. See information like who has ordered something, how much money they owe, or what their order entails all on a platform that’s easy to use.
7. Find a supplier for your subscription products, if applicable. In many cases, you’ll likely need to choose a vendor or supplier who will make the products you’re offering, if you’re not doing it yourself. There are lots of great options to choose from, like Etsy, eBay, or even local stores in your town. Look for a supplier who can provide you with bulk items at a lower price, or hand pick your items from lots of different suppliers. Start a good relationship with them so that you can depend on each other.
- You might reach out to several people on Etsy who make hand-made boat items for a nautical-themed subscription box. If you’re making the items yourself but still need the materials to make them, see if there’s a local store that will give you a discount for bulk purchases. Make sure the products you’re offering to your customers are great quality and not cheaply made.
Marketing and Communicating with Customers
1. Create a website where customers can look at and order subscriptions. While you could choose to design your website yourself, it’s easy to use a platform that will help you through the steps of building a website, like Wix or Weebly. Create tabs on your website, like “About Us,” “Products,” or “Contact Us,” to make it easy for your customers to find the information they need. Make sure your website is easy to use and visually attractive so potential customers will be more interested in your product.
- Create easy payment options on the website so customers don’t have to struggle to order their subscription. Choose a professional and clean design.
2. Purchase ads to get more customers to see your site, if desired. Some people like taking out online ads to get their product in front of as many people as possible. You can do this through regular websites, blogs, social media pages, you name it! If you do want to look into taking out an online ad, Google Ads is a great place to start.
3. Create social media pages for your business to spread the word. Social media is one of the best ways to market your subscription business to lots of potential customers. Make an Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter account (or all three!) for your business and post content regularly to attract more views and interest. Post your website’s address on your social media pages so they can find it easily.
- For example, posting something on your social media business page 1-2 times a week will help you build a following. Keep your business accounts professional and your posts related to your topic. If you started a book subscription business, you might take a picture of some of the books you’re sending out with the caption, “Looking for a great read? We’ll deliver them right to you!” Promote a beauty subscription business by taking pictures of different beauty products you offer with a little tidbit of information about why they’re great in the caption.
4. Start a referral campaign so customers will find you more business. Tell your current customers that if they refer a new customer to the subscription business, both them and the new customer will get a discount on their subscription. You can do this by posting a blurb about it on your website or sending them an email with the information. This is a great way to motivate current customers to find new customers for you through their own social media pages or word of mouth.
5. Provide great customer service to make sure that you keep customers. If you’re not responsive to each customer’s questions or problems, or you don’t follow up with them after they purchase a subscription to let them know more details, you might lose the customers you gained. Be as transparent as possible and keep your current customers in the loop. If they contact you with an issue, try to respond within a day or two so they feel like they’re being heard and helped.
- Encourage your customers to give you feedback about things that are working well or things that could be improved, especially when you’re first starting out.
6. Create a way for your customers to contact you easily. The best way to do this is to have a “Contact Us” page on your website so all of the communication is done internally. You could also provide an email or phone number for your customers to contact you directly. This lets them know that you take their questions and concerns seriously.
- Show your contact information on your social media pages as well.
Maintaining Your Business
1. Update your pricing to fit your offerings, if necessary. Once you’ve gotten some orders in and have a better idea of how much putting together each subscription costs, you can fine-tune your pricing. It might even be that your subscription business has gotten more in-demand, which means you can raise the price to reflect this.
- Be careful not to raise the prices so much that the customer is no longer getting a discount for their recurring subscription. You might offer promo codes or special sales to help convince new customers to join.
2. Hire staff to help you with the business as it starts to expand. While it may have been easy for you to run everything in the beginning, you may need to start hiring extra people to help out so that your customers are still getting quick, great service. Post on job boards or websites to find people who’d like to help, and make sure they have a similar passion for the business as you do.
- Make sure you’re paying each extra person a fair wage that also doesn’t detract too much from your profit.
3. Keep researching and brainstorming new ways to improve the business. Keep a list of potential ideas and always add to it, like new items to go in subscription boxes or seasonal extra services you could provide. This will ensure your business is always growing and improving and will keep your customers happy.
- Continue to check on your competition to see what new things they’ve added too.
4. Stay on top of your finances to make sure you’re making a profit. When business starts to grow, it can be easy to get distracted by new ideas and forget to look at the numbers. Make a habit of doing bookkeeping regularly and always keep a budget so you know exactly how much financial room you to have to spare.
- Once your business really grows, you might hire a professional bookkeeper to keep track of your finances for you.
5. Listen to customer feedback and make necessary changes. It’s natural for there to be a few bumps in your business plan until you get the hang of things. Your customers are the best resource for finding out what’s great and what needs to improve. Consider sending out surveys with titles like, “How are we doing?” to gather their feedback so you can implement positive changes.
- You might encourage customers to fill out surveys by giving them a special discount on future subscriptions if they submit it.