2021: The Year of the Membership Business Model

The most terrifying of all Halloween costumes last year? According to one very popular tweet I saw in October, it was a simple white t-shirt upon which the numbers “2020” were handwritten. No need for Serif Gothic Heavy. The numbers themselves inspired all the necessary horror.

As if the tweets weren’t spot on enough, there’s also the treasure chest of 2020 memes that has continued to grow. 

Like this one:

funny 2020 meme

I think we’ve all felt the consequences of that very bad design.

The tweets, the memes, the worldwide laments of 2020 — they’ve all been so right. I’d list off all the reasons for their rightness here, but I don’t think I need to remind you. You already know why 2020 was scary and sucked. We all do. 

What you might not know is that 2020 was also amazing. You probably won’t find a meme about it, but it’s true.

About the e-commerce boom that has made 2020 historically amazing

Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, an e-commerce boom unlike anything we’ve ever seen was born amid all the destruction of 2020. And, according to many experts, it’s a boom that has permanently altered the course of commerce in general. 

It’s been that powerful. And the stats are coming out to prove it. 

For example, in an article late last year, CNBC reported that, year-over-year, global online sales increased 71% for the second quarter of 2020.

In a release from the U.S. Census Bureau we learned that, “The third quarter 2020 e-commerce estimate increased 37.1 percent (±2.1%) from the third quarter of 2019 while total retail sales increased 6.9 percent (±0.4%) in the same period. E-commerce sales in the third quarter of 2020 accounted for 13.5 percent of total sales.”

ecommerce growth in 2020

Most interestingly, according to the World Economic Forum, overall S&P 500 sales contracted at an annualized rate of -10% in the second quarter of 2020. But online subscription-based businesses expanded at a rate of 12%.

And that’s where we happily drill down to the most amazing thing about 2020 (especially from our perspective here at MemberPress).

The massive expansion of the membership business model

Frightening as it was, 2020 was fertile soil for growth in the success of the membership business model. There are lots of reasons for this, but three things have had the greatest impact: the need for community, the need for home-bound learning, and an already-expanding e-learning marketplace.

The need for community

First, in times of tragedy and desperation, people seek out a sense of community, which is exactly what a membership website can deliver. That is, if it’s done right

According to Callie Willows, co-creator of the advice and education site, The Membership Guys, membership sites that incorporate things like an on-site forum or social network, a Slack group, or live hangouts can achieve that sense of community and benefit from it handsomely.

And we know it’s true. We’ve seen people building communities around their membership sites this past year with great success.

The need for home-bound learning

Second, everyone’s home, so online learning has become a necessity — and not just for the school kids. In late 2020, Guide2Research reported that, of learning management system (LMS) users, 28% are considered “young”, while 37% are adults. 

People are stuck at home furloughed and looking to grow their knowledge bases. Some are hoping to stay fit amid gym closures. And some are just plain bored.

What these folks have in common is that they’re all primed for online arenas where they can learn everything from Pilates to business best practices and basket weaving without leaving the house.

Expansion of the e-learning marketplace

All of this has meant a rapid expansion of the already-growing online learning marketplace — an arena primed for the membership business model. 

In his Entrepreneur article, How Covid-19 is Revolutionizing the Online Education Industry, Nikhil Barshikar says, “While we have established that the online education sector was rapidly growing even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it is safe to say that the contagion has accelerated this growth at an unimaginable rate.”

WordPress tools like MemberPress have made it super easy for people with skills to create membership websites where they can teach those skills to the masses.

Since we released our Courses add-on in the fall, it’s become even easier. Our existing and new customers are continuing to jump on board at an incredibly fast pace. And we don’t see that pace slowing down.

Existing customers like Pilatesology, an online Pilates instruction website, and Kara Bullock Art School, have seen dramatic increases in enrollment despite the economic downturn brought on by the terrors of 2020.  

Final thoughts

Yes, 2020 brought in the three-headed boogeyman, no doubt. And we don’t want to deny the reality of the tragedy many people have experienced. But because so many of us have had to make something out of total loss, the world has seen a collective bootstrapped ingenuity come to life in a big way. 

In the end, the old adages have held true. Beauty comes from ashes. Rainbows come from rain. And a new opportunity to grow your own business in a booming marketplace has come from 2020. Maybe that boogeyman’s not so scary after all.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about the membership business model and how it's growing? Let us know in the comments!

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About Syble Harrison

Syble is the Content Team Lead at MemberPress and a lover of all things interesting (that's why she loves her job!). When Syble's not busy writing, editing, and managing content or campaigns, you'll usually find her researching or reading about AI.