How to inspire free members to upgrade

By Wynne Renz

With these tactics, you can show your fans the value of your paid membership experience and get them excited to upgrade.

How do you persuade someone that it’s worth paying for more access to what you make? In an online world saturated with so much great work, this might seem challenging. The key? Foster a feeling of exclusivity around your paid membership offerings, and create a sense of being an insider, so your members feel proud to be part of your singular community. To encourage fans to upgrade, you can show (rather than just explain) how your paid membership offers so much more, and that without it, they’ll miss out on your full Patreon experience.

Here, we walk through ways you can inspire fans to upgrade by giving them a taste of your higher-level options for deeper access to your creative world and community experiences.

Determine what you are offering each kind of member

Beyond the obvious differences, let’s quickly outline what free (or all) members versus paying members receive. A good analogy is that everyone gets an appetizer and paying members get the whole meal — plus drinks, dessert, the best table, great conversation with fellow foodies, and direct access to the chef. You can determine what each group has access to and what makes them distinct from one another.

To offer members a consistently great experience over time (not just a single dish), you can build relationships through things like regular updates, early access to media, companion materials like bonus commentary, and the option to participate in polls to share their thoughts with you. Members who upgrade still get all this fantastic stuff — plus any exclusives that you offer, like email updates for paid-member-only posts and automatic access to any community benefits you offer through integrations like Discord and Crowdcast. Put simply: You can offer members an inspiring window into your creative world. By signing up for paid membership, fans can get even more exclusive content and valuable community experiences and connections that are well-worth the price.

Promote paid membership (and feel good about it)

It’s a no-brainer that “Be a member of my Patreon!” isn’t nearly as compelling as “Get the complete episode — where I share how I built my business from side hustle to sustainable, full-time job when you join as a paying member.” With illustrative details and storytelling — and a bit of well-placed FOMO (or “fear of missing out”) — you can show your audiences the exciting content that awaits them in your paid membership levels. Telling your fans to do something without showing them why it benefits them won’t inspire them to take action; not to mention, you’ll miss an opportunity to promote your paid offerings.

Showing the value of paid membership (and the value of your Patreon) all starts with finding your and your audience’s “why.” What do we mean by that? Your fans have reasons behind why they engage with your creative work, and in turn, you, as a creator, have reasons why you create what you create. Alayna Joy, who makes work focused around the LGBTQ+ community, mental health, and her own journey of discovering and exploring her sexuality, writes about her motivations in her About section on Patreon: “I create with the goal of bringing others joy and community, while providing a bit of education along the way.”

Getting to the core of your Patreon’s “why” can help you promote paid membership more authentically by speaking to your audience’s intrinsic and emotional (in other words: human) motivations.

Build excitement around your paid membership levels to get fans to join

Here are three things you can start doing today to encourage members to upgrade to your wonderful world of paid membership.

Tactic 1: Show what paying members can access

Show fans what they’re missing by regularly (such as every month) publishing posts that you might have considered only sharing with paying members, so they get excited about your work and feel inspired to join.

To highlight paying members’ access to exclusive content and community experiences, you can share things like:

  • Clips from one-on-one exclusive conversations, live streams, and ask-me-anything sessions (AMAs)
  • “Director’s cut” content
  • Images, links, and notes referenced in a podcast episode
  • Teasers and previews of extended pieces
  • Longer excerpts of paid material, with encouragement to upgrade to hear the full piece
  • Behind-the-scenes stills or short-form video clips
  • Commentary on your creation process for a specific piece of work
  • Occasional full pieces of paid content, like monthly or bi-monthly long-form video and audio posts, like how book podcaster Traci Thomas, founder of The Stacks, offers “sampler” episodes to show why paid membership is different from what fans might expect

Another way to show what paying members get access to? Invite fans to do a seven-day free trial of one of your paid tiers. That way, they can experience a week in the life of a paying member before they decide to commit.

"Telling your fans to do something without showing them why it benefits them won’t inspire them to take action; not to mention, you’ll miss an opportunity to promote your paid offerings."

Tactic 2: Show what it’s like to “be in the room” with you

Contributing to your creative decisions and connecting with you one-on-one are special benefits that you probably save for only paying members to enjoy. By offering fans a look into that level of access and opportunities to participate — with things like one-time polls and AMA threads — your audiences can get hooked on feeling like an “insider.”

For example, you could ask fans to chime in with a poll on which new topics you should tackle, which merch you should offer next, or what types of products you should create. Then, cover the winning topics and share those products with paying members. “I’ve been trying to appeal to the FOMO,” says Mia Benzien, an artist who creates 3D printing files for tabletop role-playing games at M3DM. “Every now and then I say ‘You can vote whether this character has a sword or a crossbow.’ I’m really hoping that with helping to create things, they get that ‘Oh, I helped vote for this, now I’m invested, now I want it.” And then they intend to sign up to get the character.”

You can also share the replay of a paid-members-only live event to give audiences a window into how your paid options grant members increased access to special events, where they can ask questions, connect in real-time, and feel the buzz of the live gathering. You could also share a paying-members-only comment thread to show what it’s like to chat with you and your community and mention how even more conversations take place in your exclusive community spaces.

Or share a glimpse inside your creative process. For example, Erika Wiseman from erikathegoober shared a post about one of her recent works and invited fans to take a closer look at the process. By sharing this work-in-progress, fans get an inside look at her process, and Erika gets to tease some future work for paid tiers.

Tactic 3: Show the breadth of your exclusive content and experiences

Fans who love what you do simply want more of it — and more of it in enhanced ways. Giving them bonus creative work and different formats (like a video of your podcast episode so fans can see your guests interacting, for example) is one route to getting them excited about paid options.

By offering more variety and expanded versions of what you do, you can show how paying members get more and even better content and experiences, such as:

  • Early access and first-look content
    • Get fans excited with announcements about ticket sales, tour dates, merch drops, new digital products, and new releases that paid members get first
    • Post your schedule of upcoming work to generate buzz. Angela Anderson, who shares acrylic painting tutorials on her Patreon, posts a schedule of her upcoming content to her fans.
  • Ad-free content
    • Let fans know they can enjoy their favorite videos or podcast episodes, for example, without ads
  • Creative work that only lives on Patreon
    • Share Patreon exclusives with your members that they cannot get anywhere else

As you try out these tactics, it’s important to remember that your free members don’t “get less” than paying members in terms of intrinsic value. “Freebies allow me to bring a spotlight onto past creations, give back to my community, and show a little preview of what my Patreon has to offer,” says Erika Wiseman of erikathegoober, a freelance digital illustrator and character designer who shares tutorials, workshops, and videos with members on her Patreon. Fans are fans, paying or not, so it’s essential to deliver them a different, but still valuable, experience.

Additionally, by continuing to share more and better free work with your free members, you can keep them engaged and better inspire them to upgrade. Some examples of free work you can share include newsletters, ad-hoc updates, early and exclusive announcements, bonus podcast episodes and videos on other channels, and anything else you think it’s important to share on your public posts. All your members will get an email update (if enabled) about each post, so it’s less like a social media feed and more like a curated newsletter.

Not everyone will be ready to become a paying member immediately. Some may not have the financial means or might just be getting acquainted with your creative work. So, strike a balance between providing engaging free content and sharing the value of paying for membership — with the balance leaning a little bit more towards the former, since it’s not a great experience as a free member to only be asked to upgrade over and over. After all, your fans are part of your Patreon because they love what you do and appreciate a great experience at any level. And making regular public posts that are valuable to everyone (both free and paying members) can pay off in the long run, since sharing more free work can naturally lead to more engaged free members and, eventually, more upgrades to paid membership.

Now that you’ve got your north star guiding how you talk about what you offer fans, and actionable messaging that creates a sense of FOMO, you can feel less like you’re upselling your fans and more like you’re offering them an opportunity to experience more of a deeper connection. You won’t come off as a pushy salesperson, but as a friendly, enthusiastic creator who’s got cool stuff to share with all the awesome people in your community.

For early access to connect with fans outside of paid membership, join the waitlist.

To learn more about fostering a thriving membership, read about top benefit types proven to keep members engaged — and how to use them.

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