Website Design, Strategy, Social Networking, SEO, Susan Pomeroy, Ph.D.

Can You Make Money on the Web? Six Web Revenue Models for Artists and Service Providers

by Susan Pomeroy

Web Site Revenue Models for Artists and Service Providers

I wrote last time about a client, Andrea, who had been agonizing for a year over what kind of website to build. She’s an artist who has had her own site for 12 years… and never sold one piece of art directly from the site. She uses email and postcards to promote her shows, and loathes the idea of social media. But could she be doing better? What kind of web site—or web site revenue model—will best serve her business?

Another client, Terry, is enlarging her energy healing practice. She’s a sociable world traveler who gives workshops in far-flung countries, writes interesting stories, and attracts new clients everywhere she goes. What kind of site does she need? Would I recommend the same kind of site as Andrea’s?

No, I would not. And I have come to believe that understanding how a particular kind of site fits a particular business model is key to preventing needless expenditure and unrealistic hopes.

Six Basic Web Site Revenue Models

Understanding exactly how your web site fits into your business model—and exactly what any particular type of web site actually can and cannot do to help your business—really helps slice through the mental confusion that often surrounds thinking through web choices.

Bottom line: can you make money on the web? The answer depends upon the direct and indirect income potential of the kind of site you choose. Some sites actively make you money; some sites merely support and enhance sales without earning money directly.

Model 1: Simple Web Presence

Some businesses really do just need a web presence, pure and simple—a basic calling card that lets people find them online, see what they’re about, and get hours, location, and anything else the owner chooses to tell people about the business or its approach.

The most important function of this kind of web site is to let folks know that a business is a reputable, professional concern that they can safely and easily connect with by phone or in person. (This kind of site is often dismissed as a “brochure” site.)

Works great for: a locally-based business that needs a credible online presence but gets all or most of its clientele from other sources like referrals, walk-ins, print ads, or online review sites. Chiropractors and healers, restaurants and bars often do very well with this kind of site.

Direct income potential: practically nil. The purpose of this kind of site is primarily to support your existing business by enabling people to easily find you.

Model 2: “Catalog” Web Site

A catalog web site is a common and popular way to display unique or handcrafted items—works of art, t-shirt designs, furniture models, etc.—that are for sale through other means than direct purchase on the web. Perhaps the products are sold wholesale, or directly to retail locations, or by representatives. This kind of site ccan also be a resource that sales staff or customers refer to, before they contact the business by phone or other means to order or buy. Or, it could be a portfolio site, where people interested in a particular type of piece, or a body of work, are directed to get in touch.

This is not a “retail” site, as there is no payment mechanism on the site itself. Many artist or portfolio sites are a hybrid of catalog site, and brochure site or primary marketing site (see below). The precise mix usually depends on how an artist markets her or his work already, and how much time and focus they have for online engagement.

Works great for: artists and designers who regularly show graphic or other work to potential clients or galleries, and for artists and artisans who work by commission. Also wholesalers whose reps or clients usually order by email or phone.

Direct income potential: little. This site is a sales tool, just like a printed catalog, which enhance sales but doesn’t “make” them.

Model 3: Membership Web Site

Membership sites exist in order to sell membership or subscription access to a collection of exclusive and valuable online content. Marketing guru Robert Middleton’s site,, is a great example of a membership site. His public site offers an array of resources and free goodies in exchange for an email signup. His primary piece of merchandise, however, is paid membership access to an unparalleled collection of marketing resources targeted at small service businesses. Other kinds of membership sites include magazines, newspapers, and astrology forecasts.

Works great for: anyone who has a body of work—a regularly updated collection of content, a workshop series, or learning plan (written, audio, and/or video)—which can be codified and systematized online to be used by many people.

Direct income potential: excellent, with proper marketing and effective sales copy.

Model 4: “Single Sale” Web Site

A single-sale site is a highly streamlined and focused site whose primary purpose is to sell one item or service online., the online backup service, or, a search optimization aid, are models of this kind of highly focused sales site. Quite often they’re used to sell automated services—automatic backup, blog SEO—have been turned into software that can be sold as single items or packages.

Works great for: software, templates/themes, plugins, highly defined web services. Often combines well with membership/subscription model.

Direct income potential: Excellent, with proper marketing and effective design and sales copy.

Model 5: Magazine Site

A freely accessible collection of news, resources, articles, feeds, videos, etc. This kind of site provides information, often on a particular, specialized topic and can act as a clearinghouse for the most up-to-date news. Examples include and May also include forums and discussions. The purpose of this kind of site? Altruistically, to educate and inform. Revenue-wise, to sell add space. Often, free public magazine sites are the front or public side of membership sites… or, they’re teasers for an actual print magazine.

Works great for: individuals and groups with an overwhelming interest in a particular topic or activity. Often combined with or used as a front end for a membership site.

Direct income potential: Primarily from advertising. Excellent, with sufficient site traffic.

Model 6: Primary Marketing Site for Service Professionals

Rather than passively “sitting there” like a brochure site, this kind of site is a very actively managed, dynamic and vibrant site which sells services, workshops and products based on services, tries to grow a mailing list, offers knowledge and expertise, and cultivates connection and relationship with individual clients and prospects. Often this kind of site has adjunct sites on Linked In or Facebook, as well as a Twitter feed. There is generally a written blog, sometimes podcasts and video. Sometimes the blog is the site’s primary content; in other cases the blog is secondary and the business offerings take center stage. SEO is a vital tool in supplementing social media exposure.

Without hands-on management, this kind of site devolves into a de facto brochure site, which is not an effective marketing tool for most service providers.

With hands-on management, it works great for: providers of location-independent services (coaching, consulting, programming, design, publishing services, etc) who use the internet and social media as their primary marketing channels.

Direct income potential: from zero to quite high with an active integrated marketing plan in place. These are high-maintenance sites which require an ongoing, dynamic and resource-heavy personal presence to attract steady, high-quality traffic.

Bottom Line

Andrea, the artist, realized that she would be wasting time and money creating a retail sales site for her art pieces. Instead, she’s clear in her mind that she wants a “catalog” site, which will help sell her portfolio to galleries interested in representing her work. She has clarity of mind, and she’s saved herself a bundle on what could have been a misguided and expensive site redesign.

Terry, on the other hand, is a born blogger. A dynamic primary marketing site will serve her very well, increasing her exposure, keeping her in touch with her followers, and allowing her to promote her book, workshops and services to an ever-widening circle of fans.

Clarity and Peace of Mind

Many business owners spend weeks, months, even years in a state of suspended animation when it comes to a website redesign. They know that they want and need drastic improvement, they hear prescriptive “gotta have’s” from all sides—but the effect of all this can be paralysis because of fear of spending too much money on what could turn out to be the “wrong” site.

But clarity and peace of mind can be yours. Matching up your business model with the right web site revenue model can save you frustration, uncertainty and headaches—and even make you money.


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