AP 1105: When Does it Make Sense to Use a Subscription Model to Serve Your Audience?
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Pat Flynn: What's up everybody? Pat Flynn here and welcome to session 1105 of AskPat 2.0 you're about to listen to a coaching call between myself and an entrepreneur just like you. And today we're speaking with Nick Blevins and Nick has a couple of businesses that are both on the side. And the first one is the Family Ministry Podcast. He's a minister himself and he helps other ministries sort of boost their messaging, which relates to the second side business he has, which is called Ministry Boost. You can find that at ministryboost.org. He and his friends started that. They have courses and consulting and do coaching related to those things.
Pat: But in this particular episode, Nick wanted to ask me about adding a subscription model to the online courses. How do they blend if possible? How might one be leading into the other and vice versa? And how do you make sure you don't sort of oversell and overwhelm your people? And it'll be very easy to see, Nick really cares about his customers. And we're going to discuss this a little bit. So we can come to an amazing conclusion which you'll find out at the end, so make sure you stick around.
Pat: Thanks again for being here and listening to AskPat and here is Nick Blevins from ministryboost.org. Hey Nick, welcome to AskPat 2.0 thanks so much for being here today.
Nick Blevins: Hey Pat, thanks for having me.
Pat: Yeah, this will be a lot of fun. I'm excited to learn more about you and why don't you give us a little lowdown on who you are and what you do.
Nick: Yeah. My name is Nick Blevins and I am a next gen pastor at Community Christian Church in Maryland, and that's what I do full time. And then on the side I kind of have two businesses. One is my own personal business where I have my website and a podcast that you helped me start called the Family Ministry Podcast. So it's for leaders that lead in churches and specifically that lead in children's and student ministry in churches. And then some friends and I started an organization last year called Ministry Boost, where we provide courses and coaching and consulting for church leaders. And so we're a year into that now. It's been a lot of fun.
Pat: That's really cool. What's been your favorite part about starting your own thing and starting the podcast and putting the message out there?
Nick: Well, I think with the podcast, especially in starting that, it's just the conversations. I've had so many great conversations learned from so many people. I'm sure you experienced this, where you get to just know so many people more than you ever did before. And then when you go to a conference or something, you see them all the time. It's like a family reunion of sorts or whatever. So I think it's the networking, the connections that have come from that and the company that we launched.
Pat: I agree for the networking for sure. And so congrats on everything. That's amazing. I think your podcast, you said it was up to over 150 episodes at this point. So you've been doing this for a while. So why don't we dig in—just tell me what's on your mind.
Nick: Yeah, so with the company, Ministry Boost, a couple of years ago, my friends and I kind of did some mastermind coaching groups, which is very popular of course in the business world. I learned a lot about that from you as well. Not so popular in the church world, at least not with that name, but we did it. It went really well. We had a lot of groups and we helped lead them. And then last year we started Ministry Boost to kind of add some online courses to the mix and really make the courses our main offering.
Nick: So we do courses, coaching, and consulting, but it's mostly about the online courses. And right now we have 20 courses and my two business partners and I probably lead maybe 10 of those or eight of those. And then the rest are from some of our friends. And so we've sold those courses, kind of like à la carte. People just buy access to the course and they get that and they take it.
Nick: But we're going to add another five to 10 courses for this Fall. And we're just thinking about a subscription model. Should we move to a subscription model where church leaders could pay a monthly price and then they get access to all the courses, which we love the idea. It sounds great. We're wrestling with how do we pay our instructors. Because it used to just be a percentage and if it's a subscription model, we're not sure about that. So what do you think about the idea of that and then even how do we do that? What do you think is the best way to make that work financially?
Pat: I mean I think it's great to explore the idea. So I'm very appreciative of the question because I think a lot of people are in the same camp, especially those who are just starting out and are considering multiple courses, because it gets to a point where it just becomes a lot of one-offs versus a much easier experience from a customer point of view to kind of go in and you can kind of hand select and you get access to everything.
Pat: Can you give me a little bit more info on the courses in terms of price point and then potential price points that you've thought about or discussed with your team related to what the subscription might be?
Nick: Yeah, definitely. So we have a few courses that are live like on a Zoom call every week and those are more expensive and they would not be part of the subscription model. So they're $200. Most of our courses that are on demand, you get them as soon as you sign up, they're $50 to $100. There's some that are $20 they're more introductory, kind of gets you in. Most of them are $50 to $100 a course.
Nick: And then we were thinking about, and this is very early, what if we charged maybe as much as $50 a month to get access to everything for churches that have larger staff, they get discounts from there. So we're not just selling directly to the leader, but even the church itself. So maybe you know, if you have five to 10 staff at your church using it, it's $30 a month or something like that. That's what we were thinking. Lots of concerns there. But that's where we're thinking.
Pat: Okay, so $50 a month times 12 you know, so you're, you're looking at $600 a year per person for that. And I'm curious, what is the sort of rate at which a person's buying more than one course? I'm curious.
Nick: Yeah. We ran this study a little bit ago and it was probably a third of people bought one course, a third of people bought multiple courses. If you just looked at all of our people that have purchased. And then there was another third that multiple people from the same church bought courses, if that makes sense. [crosstalk 00:05:52] So it was about a third, a third, a third, if you look at it that way, which there's overlap between the churches that have multiple courses and people that buy multiple courses. But that was kind of how it shook down.
Pat: Yeah. I mean this is an interesting predicament here. It's a good problem to have. It's like, okay, well, which way do we want to go? But it's interesting because you know, hypothetically with a percentage of your audience, you could make more money by having them pay monthly and even encourage them more to take action on what you're teaching because there's that subscription model. They're seeing that bill every month or every quarter or every year. And they're sort of encouraged to get their money's worth and keep going with it and perhaps even dive into courses that they wouldn't have normally gotten access to and thus getting more help, which is great.
Pat: But on the other hand, a monthly subscription is a big ask of people versus, hey you have this problem or you want to learn about this thing, here's the solution that you could just pay one time for. So it's kind of an interesting mix and I know a number of people who do it a number of different ways. I know some people who are in the camp of: no, let's not do subscription because that adds so much more administrative work. It adds a lot of confusion and especially if you have multiple course owners, well then how might you break that down?
Pat: And it could be, I know some people who do the subscription model in this similar fashion with different course creators, and literally it's a calculation on how many course openings are for that particular course. And then that person meaning, if I was in your suite of courses for example, my percentage of the overall subscription base would be based on how many people are actually getting into my course in particular.
Pat: And of course that's a lot of calculations, a lot of things, and it could work, but there's a lot more things that could be mixed up or broken. And how do you calculate that? How do you know it's tracked properly? So that's tough. I also know some people who go: hey, we're moving all of our courses into the subscription model except for these certain ones because those aren't taught by us. So you could have a subscription model for your team and your courses, which will help break down that percentage a little bit better because that's just all going to your company.
Pat: And then the other one-off courses you could still have sort of separate and then your subscription members, if you want to call them members, have a discount to those. And so they're still getting people coming in. But the subscription model, the benefit is you also get coupons to these other courses that aren't instructed by you. So there's a hundred different ways you can go about it. And honestly, every time I come across a situation like this, I always go, okay, if this were easy, what would it look like? And so I would love to ask you sort of where is your gut telling you to go with all this, because it's definitely a lot to consider.
Nick: Yeah, my gut is, I think about the customer first and when we're trying to help church leaders and with the limited time they have each week to work on their ministry, no different than business. You have so much time you're working in the business, you have very little time to work on it each week. And so we're trying to provide help to them to kind of fast forward that. And to me the subscription model seems easier for them because I just get everything. I think there's a little bit more ownership on their side to be disciplined and actually go through the courses. Because it's not just one, they could kind of let it go. It's like a gym membership, you could just forget about it and not use it. But I think for them it feels easier. For us, it does feel more complicated.
Nick: Like with the calculations—we even considered do we license it kind of like Netflix does or whatever, where we just pay you this certain amount, maybe do royalties on top. We weren't sure, but it feels easier for them to do subscription and cheaper. I mean in the long run you'd pay more, but you get so much more for it. There's more value per course. And in our world, most leaders could use half of the courses we offer, easily, to help with different areas. So that's what feels easier. I would say it's harder on us, but I'd be okay with that if it's best for them.
Pat: Yeah. And I love that you're thinking about the customer. The other option, which I don't know if you've thought about or discussed yet, but I know some people who've done it this way, they have a suite of courses. They see a person go through two or three, right? And there's a whole bunch more. And they go, oh, this person really loves our stuff. How about they pay a lump sum up front. It's not a subscription model, but it's a larger upfront cost to just, hey, you have lifetime access to everything that's here, plus everything that's coming out in the future.
Pat: And it's similar to a subscription in that they have access to everything, but you're asking them to pay a larger amount up front. That way you don't have to worry about attrition and churn and those kinds of things. The calculations with subscriptions and whatnot, it's just, hey, for $2,000 right now, you get access to all 25 courses plus all courses that come out in the future and it's just one and done. You have it, you're a special VIP gold member. And if you do that, you also get this other thing that only gold members get, or whatever.
Pat: And then percentage wise with everybody else in there, it could be, hey, we're going to run this lifetime membership thing for gold members. If you're an instructor in this course, we'll give you this many dollars for every person that we bring through as a gold member. And just logistically it's a little bit easier. Plus, you get a larger upfront sum of money and often times that makes people feel much better because they know it's just kind of one and done. And it's not a gym membership. It's an investment and a commitment up front.
Nick: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It also would help, because I know one of the things we've talked about if we did the monthly subscription is we probably can't have people actually pay monthly because you can pay once and then download whatever you want and then you're done. It would probably be like you pay for six months or a year at a time, but it looks like a monthly cost. So that would help with that because then it wouldn't be a concern it would just be the investment up front.
Pat: Right. And then you get a person who has purchased three courses for ... There's so many ways to utilize and market that lifetime subscription. You could have a person ... How much would you say in total the value is of all the courses that you have together right now?
Nick: Probably $1,500 to $2,000 just thinking about the price, if you got a discount, maybe $1,500.
Pat: Okay. So let's say it's $1,500 and a person has taken two or three courses and has spent $500 with you already, but they're kind of not on a regular schedule buying courses and what not. I don't know what the average number of courses a user has had with you, but it could be two or three and let's just say they spent $500 and you can go, hey, you know what? We have this lifetime access thing for $1,500 that you can get access to. But you know, we also realize that you've also already invested $500, and so what we're going to do for you because we see that you are in this, is we're just going to subtract the $500 from the $1,500 and we'll just charge you $1,000 now for access to everything.
Pat: Because that way it almost is like, oh, you're not asking me to pay more. I've already sort of invested in it, and I've paid almost kind of like credit toward the whole lifetime membership. If it's $1,500 or $2,000 or whatever you think it might be. That marketing strategy works really well because a person doesn't feel like they've lost anything by buying early. They are adding credit toward a much larger purchase.
Pat: And again, it's just so much easier to manage logistically and you get those committed members who you know, and that could be a separate list of VIPs who then you can offer super special access for. So on top of that you could go, hey guys, we're doing an event every year just for VIP members and you have to be one to go. But at the event you'll get to see some of the instructors and meet us in person and other things like that. Those people are more likely to say yes because they've committed and they love what you're doing.
Pat: So I'm just curious where's your head at with this now that we're discussing even more options? I don't mean to overwhelm you with these things, but I just wanted to hopefully present a lot of this to share different angles that maybe you haven't thought of yet.
Nick: Yeah, I love it. This is really helpful. I think one thing that would be hard with the upfront cost is most church leaders, especially if they're using their budget, would be better spending monthly or yearly than an upfront thing because they're just not going to have it in the budget for that year. But it is possible. And certainly one of the things we've thought about, is larger churches that have more staff, we want it to be simple for them. We've seen subscription models, even in our industry, so to speak, where they kind of abandoned all these complicated pricing things and just said, hey, it's this much per person a month or this much for this level. Like there's two levels.
Nick: So we thought about that in terms of if you've got five to 10 staff, maybe it's this price. Or 11 plus, it's this price and that part, it feels like we could figure out. The harder part is the paying our course creators. Do you, and let me ask this, do you, I know it's different and everybody does things differently, but what's kind of a standard percentage that somebody would pay a course creator if they're the one housing it, but they're going to pay their instructor, what kind of percentage do you think they would pay them for each core sale?
Pat: Yeah, I mean it ranges, obviously. If you think about course platforms like LinkedIn Learning or Lynda, they're paying a certain percentage, but it's a smaller percentage. Versus I know some people who have these networks and what not and they have instructors come on and they're paying them 50% because it's like, hey, we're a partner, this is the marketplace and you're bringing people in. But this is my content and my material. Let's just go 50-50 down the middle. So it really depends. Right? Like you said, it's case by case basis. But what I would recommend and how many other course instructors are there? I'm just curious.
Nick: I want to say 10. I had to think off the top of my head. It's probably, it might be nine, it might be 11 something like that. And we're adding a few this Fall. So that'd be two or two more people I think.
Pat: If I was in your shoes, here's what I would do. I would get on a call with all of them like on a webinar and just go, "Hey guys, this is what we're thinking of doing because we know we can add more value. We know we can increase the size of our business. And also we want to bring more customers your way. And what we're struggling with is how to make sure that you are comfortable with this and compensated for it. And I would love to hear from all of you what some ideas might be that we can then take with us and process and let you know what we're going to decide. And we just love to know what you think about that."
Pat: And I think if you rely on them a little bit, they might be able to come up with a solution that they're happy with. And then of course there's going to be back and forth perhaps. And but I think you might get that... Like if you just make all the decisions on your own without them, they might go, whoa, hey, you didn't even tell me about this. Right? Which we see sometimes with other platforms that we've used, or when announcements happen without us even being involved in the decision, I mean these are people's money and livelihood.
Pat: So I think it would be worth having a conversation at least and just being honest and authentic with them. And I think that they would appreciate that. I think they would go, whoa, I love that you're including me in this process and helping us kind of work with you to create a solution that works for everybody. And again, you're coming from the point of view if we just want to make sure you're being compensated when we do this and what do you think is good? And I think empowering them would make them feel even more like they're a part of the system.
Nick: Yeah, definitely. And we have great instructors. Everybody's in it to help church leaders. So nobody's getting hung up on the money, and we actually pay them more than 50% now, which is probably part of why we're in this place and exploring these other things because we've grown enrollment by over 50% every time we launch and we do three launches a year. Even though courses are available anytime, we push it big three times a year. So it's growing in students and registrations and courses, but the financial side of the company itself isn't keeping up, you know what I mean? It's kind of a lid right now to helping it grow more.
Pat: I think if you had numbers to support a decision to go subscription and it made sense, I think if you could show that a person has the opportunity with this new subscription model—a coach—to make more money or at least the same to benefit the business, then they would be happy with it. I think what you don't want to run into is changing the model in a way that ultimately, they're going to end up with less because that would be going backwards. Right?
Pat: And so if you had that math to present to them and you can have some goals as well. I mean, maybe it's hey, we take all the subscription money that's coming in, you all get the plus 50% that you're normally getting from the one off sales, but with, whether it's lifetime or monthly or whatever, we put all that money together and we're going to take 50% of that and that will be your guy's money that will be split. And we're just going to split that evenly. And again, just trying to make it as simple as possible, but fair, I think is the thing. And it seems to be like you're doing that.
Nick: Yeah. And that could work well. If the percentage for them goes down, but the total income goes up, they're going to be fine with that [crosstalk 00:18:34] Yeah, there'll be okay with that and I think that could work. Part of it is we haven't done this subscription thing, so it's very much a test, it's an experiment and I've heard a lot of Stu McLaren so I've thought about really getting that in there and then doing things, like you said, adding value to those subscribers that you don't get elsewhere.
Nick: We have a number of ideas for that, so I would love to do that and it feels like this could be a way to do it. Then maybe it's like you're saying it's a mix. They're still getting a certain percentage when it's a one-off sale, but then it's a little different when it's a subscription, and we can probably test it behind the scenes before maybe going public with it I think.
Pat: Yeah, I think so. And there might be some other auxiliary goals that the coaches may have beyond just making more money that perhaps a subscription might lend itself to. For example, maybe they want to get in front of people more online and maybe you can have them come on to do webinars and that would be something they would enjoy doing and level up their own career. And doing so and doing that with the subscription members could be really cool and a benefit for them as well.
Pat: That's something I learned from Stu is that the point of the membership is to not just have people pay monthly instead of paying one time. It's the idea of they're paying a recurring income to get continual support. And it sounds like that's the kind of business model that would benefit your target audience and exactly what they need because they need that ongoing support and as long as that's there, they're going to continue to pay.
Nick: Yeah, I think so. And I think again, I think it's probably similar to the business world. I think one of the biggest things we can offer them is networking and community. And if we do it this way, in addition to your course, we could do some things to connect you to the wider community and that could help you more than the course, you know what I mean? So that would be good.
Pat: Yeah, absolutely. And again, another way to—I'm just thinking of other people who I know who are doing similar things. I know some people who use the courses that they have à la carte as sort of a front end offer. And some people offer this right away, some people offer it later, but they offer the subscription model on top of that to get access to the community, to get access to the networking, to get access to you. And that's sort of like, you don't have to, but they kind of make it obvious that's the right thing to do.
Pat: So then people will pay not just the upfront cost for the course, but they'll get into the membership on top of that for that ongoing support. And then as a part of the membership, you get a discount on future courses that you have as well. So it's not a complete open access to all courses that you have, but it's a significant discount for paying that monthly membership.
Nick: Yeah, I like that. I think that would be what would be great for us is yeah, you can still buy them one off, but it's kind of an entry to a subscription that you can do or not. But I've looked around for that. I've only seen one good example of it and it seemed to work well there and I liked that. I think that would be a good model because a lot of people are going to at first sign up for, I need that right there. And so they sign up for that course and that's what they're interested in. But they'd be very open to a subscription if it looks like it's going to benefit them, which I think what we can offer will.
Pat: Absolutely. I think that it sounds like that of all the models we've talked about seems to resonate with you the most and fit into the business model. And so I'm curious, what else is on your mind related to this? What are your next steps with this plan?
Nick: I think we need to talk with our instructors. We've talked to a few. There's a few that have been with us since the very beginning.
Pat: What's been the consensus from them?
Nick: They were totally open to it. They understand. We said, I think part of the way we described it as, hey, yes, if you sold 100 courses, which nobody sold 100 courses, and you were getting this percentage of that, that'd be great, but we're not and we can't get there this way. So we need to shift to maybe a different model and they've been totally open to that.
Nick: I think the other thing, the other extra step is a beta test of subscriptions maybe behind the scenes. And we could even do that with maybe some larger churches that have more staff and would benefit from it even more. Right? Because they could get it for cheaper. I think we could do those two things, maybe this Fall and see where that goes.
Pat: Yeah. The cool thing about what ... I'm imagining a person getting into one of your courses because they have that specific problem, and then they get access to the membership and they meet all these other people who are in other courses and who talk about them. And I go, oh my gosh, Jamie, that's awesome. I didn't even know this course was in this platform. I would love to join that. And now you're having your members almost sell to each other in a way. And of course because they're members, they get a little bit of a discount or something like that.
Pat: Or maybe it's like, hey, every year you get one course that you can get access to for free, but you can get it sooner if you pay half or whatever. I mean you can do it whichever way you want, but I imagine a lot of members being actively playing a big role in helping to encourage others to get the courses that they got. I think that's the cool thing about having multiple courses. And I've seen that in my office hours for my courses. A person will come in with, they buy the affiliate marketing course, and they see everybody talking about podcasting and they're like, oh my gosh. I guess Pat is really helpful with podcasting too. Let's get into that course. And they get a discount as well. It's worked for me. I could see it working for you too.
Nick: I think it would. And we've been in this kind of world long enough and been to conferences together and it kind of is a community kind of like entrepreneurship. Everybody helps each other, if you can get them connected. But there's a whole group of people probably like entrepreneurs that aren't connected, that don't have that network and that community. And that would be great if this could lead to that. The subscription model just helps fuel this community of leaders that all help each other.
Pat: Love that. I know a few people, Scott Densmore rest in peace, was a guy who did a really good job of taking his community and empowering them to even grow the community. So for example, in your case, maybe there's some higher level, super active community members who then create their own local meetups under the Ministry Boost brand and they meet monthly in their own location and you and your team aren't even there, but they, as a community member, they're sort of stepping up into a moderator role, and you're empowering your own community to even support each other in an in person setting as well.
Pat: How could a person not continue that subscription after going to one of those meetings and meeting somebody just like them, but they're just a few steps ahead. That's super relatable. Just community and little niche groups like what you've created here is the future of business. You're doing it right now. And this is where I think a lot of people need to be pointing toward. And this is why things like building Superfans and nurturing your community is absolute key and you're doing just that and you're in the weeds now of how to, capitalize on that and how to benefit them even more at the same time.
Pat: So just congrats on where you're at. I think you're definitely way ahead of most, and hopefully this encourages the listeners to build things out and understand that there's even other people in the space that can even add value to your community and everybody can be happy. I think this is just a wonderful example. So congrats to you for that.
Nick: Thanks. Yeah, we got a long way to go, because I feel like a lot of it is working, but I would say the financial part not working so much right now for the company, for instructors and for everything else. And the owners, we are also instructors. So financially that works well, but for the business itself not so great. So this is helpful. We need to get that healthy and in the black and positive so this thing can help more people and build the community you're talking about.
Pat: Thank you so much for being here and sharing and do you mind if we reach out to you later in the year to see how things are going and see what decisions you've made? I think everybody will be curious about that.
Nick: Yeah, that'd be great. I imagine, I think it through what we've talked about today, I imagine we'll beta test now and then maybe at the turn of the year, January, if it works, that might be the thing we do and the whole model shifts where it's more subscription and less à la carte or one-off thing. And yeah, I'd love to let you know how it goes, whether it works or crashes. We'll see.
Pat: Well hopefully it won't do that. But Nick, thank you so much for coming on. Family Ministry Podcast and Ministry Boost. Where else can people find you? If anywhere else?
Nick: Yeah, IBlog. It's just my name, Nickblevins.com if you know anybody that's connected to church leaders are right there and then ministry boost.org is where we do all that stuff, the courses coaching, if people want to see that, they can see that there.
Pat: I love it, man. Thanks so much. Good luck to you and your team and we'll connect with you soon.
Nick: Awesome. Thanks Pat.
Pat: All right. I hope you enjoyed that episode with Nick Blevins. Again, you can find his podcast at Family Ministry Podcast as well as his site, which should maybe at some point have a membership. Which is ministryboost.org.
Pat: And this relates to an episode of the SPI podcast that was recently published not too long ago. Who was that? Stu McLaren. I'm just literally typing this right now so I can find that episode for you. Usually I'm better prepared, but that's okay. We're talking about episode 392, so this was published in December of 2019. SPI podcast session 392, and this was actually recorded after the conversation with Nick, so this would be a great followup episode over on the Smart Passive Income Podcast. Not on AskPat here, but actually my primary show, Smart Passive Income episode 392 to get there quickly, just go to smartpassiveincome.com/session 392.
Pat: Stu McLaren is the King of ... He's just a membership site genius, really, and he's even helping me this year with some stuff related to memberships as well and he's just incredible. Tribes is his program. Anyway, more than that in episode 392.
Pat: For right now, just want to say a couple of last things. Just make sure you sign up to FlynnCon if you haven't already. FlynnCon is happening in July of 2020 here in San Diego, California. Join me and a number of other members of Team Flynn as we welcome a number of amazing guests and some great workshops and sessions to help you grow your business and connect and stay knowledgeable in the areas of online business and succeeding in life.
Pat: And then finally, just make sure you hit subscribe because there's more great episodes coming your way later this year. All the best to you. And as always, Team Flynn for the win. Cheers.