Before we look at the promised SaaS revenue models, let’s get a couple definitions out of the way. We need to differentiate among three similar sounding but very different concepts: revenue stream, revenue model, and business model. You can think of these as a turducken of business jargon with a revenue stream being within a revenue model which is in turn inside a business model.
Revenue stream: This is a single source of revenue for a company. All but fledging, “pre-revenue” companies have at least one revenue stream and most have multiple streams. For example, a SaaS company might have a subscription revenue stream.
Revenue model: This is how a revenue stream is designed and executed. A single revenue model can have multiple revenue streams. For example, your subscription revenue model might have a base-fee revenue stream and an add-on revenue stream.
Business model: This is the top-level structure of your company. While it includes your revenue model(s) and thus revenue stream(s), it also includes everything else from marketing to developing, recruiting, and operations.
This is important to understand when we dive into the 10 revenue models below. The 10 revenue models we will discuss below are not mutually exclusive—you can use more than one at a time, or even all of them.
In fact, the average SaaS business will use different ones over time as their business becomes more established in their chosen market. You can also segment your streams to any level of specificity you wish—for example, if you have a tiered pricing model, you may want to consider each tier a separate revenue stream or have them all combined into one big stream.
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What is a revenue model?
Your revenue model is the framework you use to make money. It defines how you will monetize your product and at what price. It also helps you identify your target market and how to market it to those prospective customers. In a nutshell, it is your plan to generate revenue.
10 revenue models for your SaaS business
There are so many different ways to monetize your SaaS product that it is hard to narrow it down to 10 options! In fact, we discussed seven other options recently. Keep in mind that, as mentioned above, you can use any number of these models simultaneously and nest multiple revenue streams within each one.
1. Ad-based revenue model: This one is pretty simple. You come up with a website or app that garners large traffic and then you sell ad space on the website or in your app. Instead of charging money for using your product or service, you sell your client’s views to another company.
The two main ways of doing this are:
Directly selling page space to specific advertisers, or
Using a third-party ad system, such as Google AdSense, to find appropriate ads for your space.
Although you can typically expect a few dollars per 1,000 page views, if your views are from key demographics and they are motivated to spend, you can get up to ten times that.
The biggest advantage of this system is that it is easy to implement. You don’t need to spend time and money doing market research so you can therefore monetize your product earlier.
The disadvantages, however, are obvious. On the one hand, you need a huge number of views to earn a significant amount of revenue. On the other hand, having many ads can actually turn off your viewers and reduce your page views.
2. Affiliate revenue model: Similar to the ad-based revenue model, this one relies on your popularity. Instead of earning money directly from the people viewing your content, you use affiliate links to drive sales elsewhere.
This has the potential to earn more money than ads (and you can earn money in addition to ads), but you risk your viewers being turned off if your affiliates do not feel authentic to your image.
3. Channel sales (or indirect sales): Instead of trying to sell your service yourself, if your profit margin allows it, try outsourcing this to resellers that already have a large audience. In exchange for a piece of the pie, these agents will sell your services to their viewers.
This is a common method when the customers of a product or service are very specific. I.e. kayak servicing for a specific brand kayak. If you sell kayak servicing for a specific brand, it makes sense to work with the brand itself to communicate with their customers at the time of purchase. In this example, you would consider the kayak brand to be the “channel” for that set of customers.
4. Direct sales: Selling your product directly to customers guarantees that you will keep all of the revenue. However, if you need to hire a big salesforce to accomplish this, you might end up with lower profit than using indirect sales.
This can work best if you have a way to automate your sales or your average price point is very high. A trip to a client’s office for the potential to earn $10,000 makes a lot more sense than sending a traveling salesperson out when the potential to earn is only $100.
5. Freemium model: If you are in the B2C market, it can be harder to get a prospective client to depart with their hard-earned money. By offering them the chance to try your product for free, e.g., a trimmed down version of your software package or one that is supported by ads, you can prove your value to them and get them to spend some cash on your platform.
6. The product is free, but the services aren’t: In some cases, it makes sense to give users full access to your product for a low price (or free), but charge them for all services needed to deliver the benefit of the product. This happens for highly technical products. For example, there may be a tool that does a specific network monitoring function very well. However, actually using the tool to effect is difficult. Therefore, the company might make the tool free, but charge for the labor it takes to use the tool effectively.
This could also happen in something like a nail art shop. Many nail art shops don’t charge for nail polish, but the appointment and service will cost a bunch.
In this model, there is no upfront fee for the software, but there is a maintenance or service contract. The great thing about this model is that while companies are unwilling to spend a lot of money upfront on a package, they are more than happy to pay you for years into the future as they grow to love and rely on your software solutions.
7. Retail sales: If you have a physical product to sell, then sometimes a retail revenue model can have the dual function of providing another revenue stream while also being a viral marketing tool. If you have interesting packaging, sell your products somewhere hip, or otherwise find a hook, then expect people to post photos to their socials.
Some companies have unnecessarily made physical products out of their product or service just to capitalize on this kind of revenue stream.
8. Subscription revenue model: This is the classical model for a SaaS company. You build and then constantly update a software package and charge clients weekly, monthly, or yearly to use it. It can take a long time to get a subscription revenue stream up to sustainability, so this can be considered the “end game” for many businesses. Beginning out by selling ad-space, transitioning through a freemium model, and then landing here is an all too common route in the SaaS industry.
9. Transactional revenue model: This model charges customers by usage. Some clients, especially smaller ones or those that are not yet sure about the added value of your software, might prefer this option for its transparency.
10. Web sales: This model is compatible with transactional or subscription sales, but it is done through a specific website. You drive visitors to your persuasive website and let it convert them.
Baremetrics can help you explore different revenue models and see immediately when pricing experiments are working.
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Costs associated with revenue models
Different revenue models entail different cost structures. Profitability is not just about increasing revenues, but it also requires balancing your expenses. While giving away your product for free might offer long-term revenue growth from service contracts or conversions from free to premium service, you need to have the cash on hand to afford those added upfront costs.
Variable costs are the per-item costs of service. This can include transaction and hosting costs. Fixed costs, conversely, are not directly tied to your individual products. These include rent, payroll, equipment, and development costs.
Although marketing and advertisement expenses are a necessary part of any smart business plan, you need to stay on top of them to make sure they are driving sales and not just getting out of hand. If your marketing isn’t targeted well, then you won’t be driving the right visitors to your website.
Use Baremetrics to monitor your subscription revenue
Sometimes a small pricing change can have have a drastic influence on your revenue. Whatever revenue model you choose, use Baremetrics to monitor your sales data.
Baremetrics makes it easy to collect and visualize all of your sales data. When you have multiple revenue models, each with several revenue streams, it can be difficult to calculate your MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue), ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue), LTV (Customer Lifetime Value), churn, etc. Thankfully, there is Baremetrics to do all of this for you.
Baremetrics can monitor all the data you need to see if you have optimized your revenue model to match how your clients prefer to spend their money. Integrating this innovative tool can make financial analysis seamless for your SaaS company, so start a free trial today.