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Joel R

[Guide] Joel's Guide to Subscriptions

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Posted (edited)

Zoho-Subscriptions.thumb.png.41810581cae26126f6c451de2e4a7521.png

Level:  Newbie

Time:  15 minutes of reading. 

Topic: IP.Commerce Subscriptions

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Hi everyone,

One of the newest and easiest features of 4.3 is Subscriptions.  It's a simplified version of IP.Commerce products without all of the bells and whistles, and it displays beautifully on its own subscriptions page. While there are many ways to earn money from your community, I personally believe that subscriptions are one of the best methods because it directly aligns users with your community's mission and values -- you're not beholden to Google's AdSense or other marketing networks, you're not profiting off selling user data, and you're getting self-identifying users who become invested in your community's success.  Subscriptions are easy to configure and set-up.  

Guide to Commerce: https://invisioncommunity.com/4guides/suite-applications/commerce/getting-the-basics_384/what-is-commerce-r180/

The purpose of this guide is to give you 5 things to think about as you plan your Subscriptions.

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1.  MISSION  bigstock-Chalk-Design-With-Lightbulb-B-41934910-450x300.jpg

Subscriptions are easy to setup, but hard to do well.  What I mean by that is that, before you try to jump in, you need to think about how subscriptions are aligned with your community's success.  These are users who want to pay you a monthly fee - cold, hard cash! - because they want to support your site.  They want to receive valuable benefits, and some even want to add value to your website.  Most admins try to jump directly to Benefits -- that's wrong.  You need to first ask yourself the most fundamental question: "why are subscriptions beneficial to my website?" 

Hint: The answer shouldn't be, "duh Joel, I get cold hard cash."  The answer should be:

Quote

"When I get support from my users, it means that I'm able to achieve goal A, goal B, and goal C.  And that's important because Mission Statement"

When you frame your subscriptions in line with your goals, values, and mission statement, you'll discover a whole new way of integrating your subscribers into your website with greater depth of relations and a deeper, more meaningful partnership with them.    

Because of that, I think subscriptions can cover a wide range of motivations, either external or intrinsic.  The external benefits are easy:  

  • External - They get access to stuff.  
  • External - They can do more stuff.  
  • External - They receive stuff.  

The intrinsic benefits, however, are what I think most subscriptions should focus on (and what most admins skip!).  It's an emotional response to the website: how the user feels when they login, participate, converse, and further the aims of the community.  These intrinsic motivations drive users to support the website not because they get something, but because they want to help be a part of your community's future.  In fact, they'll even pay for the opportunity to be a part of your website's success!  The intrinsic benefits are necessarily more powerful over time, as it continues to provide longstanding motivation to the users when they renew.  The intrinsic benefits can encompass a wide range of emotions:

  • Intrinsic - They're a builder, and want to help you build up the community
  • Intrinsic - They're a visionary, and want to participate in your long-term vision
  • Intrinsic - They're a teammember, and want to be one of the inner core

They might also be a sugar daddy, in which case, lucky you.  

Thus, I think it's important to focus on both the external benefits ("what the user gets") AND the intrinsic benefits ("how the user feels").  And in the intrinsic benefits, you ultimately want to craft a narrative on how those subscriptions align with your community's mission.  For example:

  • Are you a nonprofit resource of information on the web?  Your goals might be the objectivity and knowledge base of your organization
  • Are you a gaming clan that provides matchmaking for gamers?  Your goals might be the camarederie and structure of your clan
  • Are you a brand's fan site?  Your goals might be realtime news and insight of your brand

And if you clearly articulate your community's mission, then you're able to clearly identify intrinsic benefits of how users can support you.   Using the same cases as above:

  • Nonprofit resource - maintain objectivity and grow knowledge base as a leading provider in the field
  • Gaming clan - foster camaraderie and cultivate talent to become a top-ranked competitive clan
  • Brand's fan site -  realtime reactions and insightful analysis to become the premier brand fansite

And these intrinsic benefits are the most powerful benefits of all, because they're tied to the goals, values, and mission statement of your community -- you emotionally connect your user to your community's mission.  This means that you're able to write a more focused, more powerful, and more impactful Subscription that's aligned with the overall purpose of your community and that touches your user in a very heartfelt manner.  When your user pays, they're not just getting benefits, they're becoming a part of something larger.  

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2.  BENEFITS  bs5-e1423585171435.png

If you thought deeply about your mission behind subscriptions, then the benefits are easy.  In fact, benefits should be an after-thought if you do Step 1.  You're simply matching up suite features to the purpose of your subscriptions.  

If you need help brainstorming, here's a list of suite features:

  • Permissions - permissions to view or access new categories in Forums, Gallery, Blogs, Downloads, or Clubs
  • Permissions - permissions to comment or review in Forums, Gallery, Blogs, Downloads, or Clubs
  • Group settings: allow name changes, search flood control, anonymous logins
  • Group settings: higher upload quotas, highlight replies, give star ratings, longer edit time, bypass flood control
  • Group settings: higher profile storage size, profile size, animated photos, cover photos, more PMs, status updates
  • Clubs: can start clubs, can join more clubs
  • Downloads: can charge for files, can submit multiple, higher download speeds, higher bandwidth quotas, higher download limits
  • Gallery: private albums, restricted access albums, more albums, movies

Third Party

  • Any permissions in third-party apps for profile videos, profile backgrounds, bookmarks, trophies, etc.  

Recognition

  • Suite recognition:  Group icons, group formatting, new group, highlight replies
  • Manual recognition: congratulations topic, personal PM or email or status update, newsletter

As a note here, I want to emphasize that the manual recognition by staff members can be just as significant as system features.  Even a simple forum topic dedicated to recognizing new subscribers or a personal email can be a wonderful way of recognizing their support.

When you're deciding to pick-and-choose your list of upgrades, remember that it's not about the quantity, it's about the impact.  Rather than having a whole slew of features (where each one is as meaningless as the next), select a few that you really want to focus on, and clearly explain how those features relate to the user's benefits.  Find 1 - 3 features that really make a difference, and build your subscriptions around that.  

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3.  LANGUAGE  post-picture-2.png

While the primary text will obviously be the description of the Subscription, I encourage you to think more broadly about language.  Language is a reflection of a you as an administrator and your board's character.  As such, the proper choice of words in language can convey subtle differences and give more meaning to what you're trying to accomplish. 

As a simple scenario, you can change the langstring of "Subscriptions" into something that better reflects your mission.  As some examples:

  • Mental wellness organization - become a Patron of the Joy program
  • Gaming clan - to become an Officer in the Commission program
  • Brand's fan site -  to become a SuperFan in the Emblem program

As you can see, none of these use the word Subscriptions - and with the power of IPS' language translation - you can come up with a completely customized program using lingo that fits with your mission.  You're no longer selling subscriptions.  You're offering an opportunity to become a patron of your mission.

 To get inspired, here are some keywords for you to think about:

  • Advocate
  • Benefactor
  • Fan
  • Friend
  • Sponsor
  • Supporter
  • Angel
  • Champion
  • Defender
  • Guardian
  • Patron

While the above words can be a good springboard for inspiration, you want to relate the terms as much as possible to your niche's nomenclature.  Be inspired and think creatively!  

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4.  PRICING  Pricing-Strategies-for-Business.jpg

Subscriptions in IPS are easy to configure for different time periods.  You can set up renewal terms based upon any of the following:

  • X Days
  • X Months
  • X Years

992560965_Renewalterms.thumb.JPG.412930e0703031b4f16922cfa354e4e3.JPG

Make sure you also configure your Subscription settings for Upgrading and Downgrading.  A default setting is to not charge when users upgrade (which is a big fat loophole).  

As some tips, I would encourage you to think about the following:

  • Less is More: Only offer 3 - 4 main subscriptions.  Keep it simple for users with simple numbers and fixed durations.  Make it clear on the differences, the time frame, and the options.  Don't try to overwhelm your users on the subscriptions page.  Your goal is to get money, not give them an all you-can-eat-buffet of forum upgrades.
  • Loyalty Discount:  For longer lengths, offer a greater discount in exchange for their loyalty.  
  • Data-Driven Pricing: Try to compute your financial goals before you set up pricing.  You might already know the engagement numbers for monetization, or you can try to guess.  In my case, I projected 1% of users to buy a subscription, and I wanted those users to pay for 150% coverage of all operating costs. 
  • It's Not About the Money:  Even though this section is on pricing, as a last tip, it's never about the money, it's about value.  Are you offering a package of value to the user, that's filled with rewarding benefits?  That's ultimately what users care about.  

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5.  MARKETING  gh360-articleimg-20170405-does-my-brand-need-a-digital-marketing-agency.jpg

Once you've built your subscriptions, you're ready to let the world know!  There are a couple of ways you can market.  There are broad announcements and trigger announcements. 

Broad announcements are ones where you spray your announcement at as many people as possible, and hope it sticks.  It can be a great way to efficiently announce the start of your subscription program to your entire userbase:

  • Announcement
  • Bulk Mail
  • Custom Notification
  • Newsletter
  • Registration screen

A more fine-tuned approach is trigger marketing, when you catch the user at the point where they want to upgrade or access.  I find this to be a more tailored approach and one that's better for long-term success.  Try to offer them a call-to-action at the moment of access. 

  • Are they trying to access a specific category?  Customize the 'no permission' description
  • Are they trying to view additional items in a specific app?  Add an announcement only in that app

The goal is to offer subscriptions at the moment when users are wanting subscriptions, and to facilitate the check-out process as quickly as possible so they can continue on with their routine.  

Just remember that, when you advertise, you want to spread the word around in an effective manner and to reach people who want to engage with you.  

Edited by Joel R

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Posted (edited)
On 8/1/2018 at 11:13 AM, Tom S. said:

Excellent guide, Joe. You cover a lot of important aspects that people might over look.

Would love to start using the Subscription Manager. Desperately waiting for it to be able to use coupons and offer multiple renewal options per subscription. 

Thanks.  I think subscriptions are one of the easiest and fastest ways to make money if you have a genuine community of value.  You can earn 5 cents per day with AdSense, or make some real money.  

I've gotten a lot of questions and messages regarding subscriptions since my guide, so I wanted to add on to my guide and share some lessons I've learned.  

1. What benefits did you offer?

I get asked this question a lot, and I think it's a misleading question because what works on my community won't work on yours.  That's why my first point in the guide is to really think hard about the mission and value of subscriptions to YOUR community and the benefits will come.  

In general, find the value proposition to your members.  What do they want, need, crave? Then use Subscriptions to give them more of it.  

In my case, I have a lot of community content in Downloads so I bumped back permission for regular users and gave subscribers additional permissions (eg. 10 downloads per day instead of 3 downloads per day).  And I have a permanent announcement in Downloads that's a call of action at the point of interaction.  

The last thing you want to do is throw frivolous benefits at your subscribers.  Sure, they're nice but they're not compelling.  You want to offer something that your users crave, so the money comes rolling in.  

2. How much to charge? 

Another tough question.  As little or as much as you want, to be honest.  Money is meaningless on it's own.  It's what the money does that matters.  

On IPBoard 3, I sold the same exact subscription package at $5 and $25. Really!  (It was an interesting social experiment.)  Same benefits.  Same permissions.  I had as many users on the more expensive plan as the cheaper plan (!), but they felt good about supporting my website.  People support you for all sorts of reasons.

Define a compelling story or proposition behind your subscription and you can charge anything you want.  If you need help, feel free to post your community here for us to help.  

 

Okay, so here are some lessons I learned (so you don't have to make the same mistake):

1. Set up recurring payments

I know, I know, this sounds stupid but you can't have recurring subscriptions without recurring payments ?.  PayPal doesn't have recurring by default, you need billing agreements.  

When I learned of this problem, you bet I immediately set up Stripe and pushed PayPal to the back of the list.

2. Keep your descriptions focused.  

Originally I wrote long descriptions for each subscription that had a cool intro story, list of all benefits, impact to website, blah blah.  

It was so long I couldn't even see the "buy" button on the page.  Remember, your goal is to get them to buy, so give them the best reasons and cut out the junk.  

3. Adjust your time frames

If you're selling 30 day renewals, the default IPS is 10 days before hand and 4 days grace.  I feel like that's a long period of inaction relative to the cycle, so I tightened up the time frames.  

 

I've only been running subscriptions for slightly over a month.  

20180822_103531.thumb.jpg.f667942c6ba8dba2326cdae8a2c96eef.jpg

(You can see the drop-off on my monthly plans because I didn't set up PayPal correctly.  All of those should have been rebills.)

Edited by Joel R

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Posted (edited)

Still waiting for it to allow options with commerence so when someone upgrades or takes out a sub (just like the store when you setup paying memebrships).

Excellent guide though Joel.

Edited by CP_User

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1 hour ago, CP_User said:

Still waiting for it to allow options with commerence so when someone upgrades or takes out a sub (just like the store when you setup paying memebrships).

Excellent guide though Joel.

You should already be able to upgrade / downgrade subscriptions, unless you're asking about different options? 

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22 hours ago, Joel R said:

You should already be able to upgrade / downgrade subscriptions, unless you're asking about different options? 

More to accociate physcial products conencted to each subscription.

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Excellent Guide with loads of stuff to think about before setup a Subscription Plan. What I want to achieve is the following. I‘m a completly newbie and it‘s quite hard to get an overview because of all the possibilities of Invision Community. So bare with me when I‘m completly wrong now.

Fast forward. My Board, Forum etc is empty at this stage and I created no members or moderators. In a first step I want to setup some „Founder Members“. I‘ll try to get some friends/followers to signup for a free subscription. The goal is that they add content and test the functionalities. 

Step 1: Setup Subscription „Founder Members“. They can join for free and will be never charged

As soon I‘ve some Members and interesting content I plan to launch to my list. I want to convince them to subscribe for a 7 day trial. After the 7 days the have the choice to continue as a Basic Member and pay a yearly fee of 10 EUR. Or day can get the full Membership for 30 EUR/year. If they don‘t choice anything I delete them after a grace period of 5 days.

Step 2: Setup Subscription „First Members which pay“. 

... and then. How to I setup the Trial, Basic Member and Full Member?

Thank you for your support

Kind regards

Reto

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Hi @Reto Bachofner

It sounds like you have a great idea for subscription-based community!  Let me make sure that I have your workflow correct before I advise you on anything:

Step 1

Guest --> Founder Member (free)

 

Step 2

Guest --> Users --> 7 day trial --> Basic (10 EUR) or Full (30 EURO)

====================

If the above workflow is correct, then this is what I would do:

Step 1

Set up a new group called "Founder Member."  I would NOT use subscriptions at all in Step 1.  Subscriptions are not required or appropriate at this stage for several reasons:

  • You're not changing permissions between users (eg. user A has more permissions than user B).  All users are treated the same, which means it's easier to control and manage through permissions since you only have one kind of user.  
  • Subscriptions require users to input their address and billing information, even if they're not being charged anything.  If I were a brand new user who knows nothing about your website, why would I trust you enough to give you my name, address, and billing information? 

By using groups, you bypass the profile information and let users join your community for free.  They can help grow your content, let you experiment, and serve as a source for trusted feedback.  Once you have a large enough base established, then you're ready for subscriptions.  

Step 2

To be honest, what you want to do is not possible within IPS due to your advanced requirement of conditional trial periods.  There's no feature in IPS that will require users to choose another product at the end of another trial period.  Thus, I recommend you directly offer three tiers: Trial, Basic, or Full membership.  You would create three subscriptions: Trial (1 EURO for 7 days); Basic (10 EURO for 1 year); and Full (30 EURO for 1 year).  For the Trial, do not set up renewal so the period ends at the end of 7 days.  For the Basic and Full, set up renewals.  You can make those subscriptions available during the registration phase, so new users MUST choose.  One problem you will have is that you must decide what will happen when users are done with the trial period.  There's no way to force users to go from Trial--> Basic or Full.  The most you can do is move them to a new group "Non-Subscribers" and periodically send out reminders to let them know they must re-subscribe 

You can also use "Group Promotion" (ACP > Members > Group Promotion) to automate moving users from "Non-Subscribers" to an "Inactive Group."  You can set up easy rules, like they posted more than 5 days ago.  Then, periodically sweep through the Inactive Group and delete as needed.

It's not a perfect solution, but it's workable.  

The main thing is to get started with your community, get the members coming, upload the best available content in your niche, and then decide the best way to ask for subscriptions 🙂.  Good luck!  

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Another lesson that I learned the hard way (so you don't have to make the same mistakes)

  1. Charge more for the first month -- I originally had a monthly plan that costs $10  for the first month and renews at $10.  After some trials with users, I bumped it up to $12 for the first month.  Why?  If you don't charge more for the initial period, then users can stop / restart the plan with no penalty (eg. subscribe $10 for one month, stop for a month until new content becomes available, then subscribe again for $10).  By making users pay more  for the first month of any subscription, it forces them to stay renewed.  Otherwise, the next time they start a new subscription, they have to pay a higher initial amount. 

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Hi @Joel R for your fantastic advise. I will setup it this way and let you know how this was working for me. You're right the main thing is to get started. My project is about german speaking travelers to the Island of Ireland. I'm blogging about this topic since over 5 years and no it's the time to come up with a community :-)

Thank you!

Reto

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4 hours ago, Joel R said:
  1. Charge more for the first month -- I originally had a monthly plan that costs $10  for the first month and renews at $10.  After some trials with users, I bumped it up to $12 for the first month.  Why?  If you don't charge more for the initial period, then users can stop / restart the plan with no penalty (eg. subscribe $10 for one month, stop for a month until new content becomes available, then subscribe again for $10).  By making users pay more  for the first month of any subscription, it forces them to stay renewed.  Otherwise, the next time they start a new subscription, they have to pay a higher initial amount. 

This could be double edged though. If you make the first month cheaper, it will be easier to get new subscribers. Once you get new subscribers it will be easier for them to pay regularly. 

I know I keep paying my Google Play Music subscription monthly, even though there are months in which I don't listen to a single song. But they got me hooked up and I am too lazy to micromanage cancellations and renewals each month. 

 

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Hi, @Joel R just quick question. sounds maybe stupid but were can I set the 7 days for the Trial Periode

Quote

You would create three subscriptions: Trial (1 EURO for 7 days); Basic (10 EURO for 1 year); and Full (30 EURO for 1 year).  For the Trial, do not set up renewal so the period ends at the end of 7 days.

 

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Hi @Joel R

I‘ve done now this setup with the three types of subscriptions and created the groups as well. But I still don‘t get it how to achieve, that the Trial Period ends after 7 Days

Quote

Trial, Basic, or Full membership.  You would create three subscriptions: Trial (1 EURO for 7 days); Basic (10 EURO for 1 year); and Full (30 EURO for 1 year).  For the Trial, do not set up renewal so the period ends at the end of 7 days.  For the Basic and Full, set up renewals.

The Trialist should get access for the full-membership for seven days, if he is not chosing a package (subscription) after this periode he should be moved to the „non-subscribers“ Group. Setup of the Trial-Subscription in Picture 2.

And as I‘m writing, I think I got it..

I go ahead and setup a group promotion. If the account for the trial group was created 7 days ago and nothing happend I‘ll let them move to the non-subscriber group and I‘ll take away the rights of the full-membership group.

Is it what you meant? 

If I‘ll go ahead with this setup, I‘ll change the „7 days ago“ to 10 days and send them some mails to upgrade the account.

3BA096AD-7366-4332-BE5A-E2F1F4BCAC60.png

E531E702-1213-4866-9E21-CA67DBE9FF06.png

A22DD625-D856-4EEF-A2E1-141FB884FBAD.png

85C59A49-3AF9-4F4D-BA4E-08148C5B50AF.png

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21 hours ago, Reto Bachofner said:

I go ahead and setup a group promotion. If the account for the trial group was created 7 days ago and nothing happend I‘ll let them move to the non-subscriber group and I‘ll take away the rights of the full-membership group.

Is it what you meant? 

Exactly.  

Just move the members for the 7 days, with no renewal.  Upon expiration, the members are moved back.  

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Hey Reto,

Another thing I thought of for you.  Create a separate "trial" member group.  Same permissions as "subscribers" member group.  

But you can do things only for that group, like send out newsletters and custom notifications.  

Check out Newsletters by @HeadStand and Custom Notifications by @Fosters.  

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Do you have a crystal ball over there, @Joel R?

At the moment I‘m dabbling around with the available Mailchimp Plugins. This brings me to the Question. Do I need mailchimp to send out Newsletters to my different Lists (Groups)? 

I‘ll check out @HeadStand Newsletter for sure. Do I need in addition to this plugin a Mail Delivery Service like sparkpost or is the „inbuild“ from IPB reliable enough related to SPAM Mails. 

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I am not Joel but I can tell you the software is reliable the question is more is your host reliable. You have a bit of fine tuning to do to get it in inbox instead of spam, but that is not ips fault. 

I followed a few tutorials for my server (centos). I would give you links but on mobile now cause of power outages:(

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37 minutes ago, Reto Bachofner said:

Thanks @Steph40. I‘ve the cloud version. I guess I can send mails by IPS? Or did I missed something and I need a server for mails in addition :unsure:?

You don't need a separate server.  Contact IPS Support for help in setting up mail then.  

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I've got classic products with subscriptions (there weren't subscription category when I started). It there a way to convert my product to subscription? Thanks for information! 

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32 minutes ago, Iwooo said:

I've got classic products with subscriptions (there weren't subscription category when I started). It there a way to convert my product to subscription? Thanks for information! 

You will need IP.Commerce - you can purchase this from your client area. 

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On 9/4/2018 at 5:01 PM, Reto Bachofner said:

Excellent Guide with loads of stuff to think about before setup a Subscription Plan. What I want to achieve is the following. I‘m a completly newbie and it‘s quite hard to get an overview because of all the possibilities of Invision Community. So bare with me when I‘m completly wrong now.

Fast forward. My Board, Forum etc is empty at this stage and I created no members or moderators. In a first step I want to setup some „Founder Members“. I‘ll try to get some friends/followers to signup for a free subscription. The goal is that they add content and test the functionalities. 

Step 1: Setup Subscription „Founder Members“. They can join for free and will be never charged

As soon I‘ve some Members and interesting content I plan to launch to my list. I want to convince them to subscribe for a 7 day trial. After the 7 days the have the choice to continue as a Basic Member and pay a yearly fee of 10 EUR. Or day can get the full Membership for 30 EUR/year. If they don‘t choice anything I delete them after a grace period of 5 days.

Step 2: Setup Subscription „First Members which pay“. 

... and then. How to I setup the Trial, Basic Member and Full Member?

Thank you for your support

Kind regards

Reto

Hi @Reto Bachofner

I've been thinking more about your trial, and I believe you're able to do it within one subscription.  

Within one subscription package, you can have a different price for the first month and then a different price for all subsequent months.  For example:

  • 1 EURO for first month
  • 10 EURO for renewals

That keeps them on the same subscription plan and hopefully auto-bills the members.  

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Hi @Joel R, think this would do the job. However, in the meantime I decided not to do a Trial. User can now just Sign Up to get an account with very basic access and rights.

I hope, that this way the can look around as long they want and that I can convince them to sign up for a payable membership. It will look like this

- Basic Account as a Group

- Subscribe Package One with more rights and access to Member-Only Forum

- Subscribe Package Two with full rights and full access (e.g. ability to have an own Blog or to run a own Club)

I will let you know how I setup this in detail and how it worked out. 

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On 8/22/2018 at 4:39 PM, Joel R said:

1. Set up recurring payments

I know, I know, this sounds stupid but you can't have recurring subscriptions without recurring payments ?.  PayPal doesn't have recurring by default, you need billing agreements.  

When I learned of this problem, you bet I immediately set up Stripe and pushed PayPal to the back of the list

Is there a guide to this anywhere? 

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