The ability to sell a membership to a group is an extremely tough problem to solve. Tying billing to one account, but having other accounts with access that depend on that account’s billing is a pretty involved system, and not many membership platforms handle this scenario well.
Over a year ago, we’d written about a workaround to create group memberships with WooCommerce, but this workaround was really only a reasonable set up if you wanted the “child” members (non-purchasers) in the group to have to renew memberships themselves, and it wasn’t a clean or automated solution.
Recently, the Gift Subscriptions add-on for WooCommerce Subscriptions (which also works with WooCommerce Memberships) has improved this process by letting purchasers immediately gift a subscription to recipient while buying, but this is best geared toward small groups or individual gifts, as parent members don’t have a single management screen for all child memberships, or a way to easily group them all together.
We then looked at selling sponsored memberships with Paid Memberships Pro, which gives you a setup in which a group administrator can purchase extra seats by giving out a discount code to members. Any membership who use this discount code become child members of the parent account, and their access is tied to the parent’s billing. However, using this plugin required some help from a developer to set up, and account owners could not remove child memberships.
An iThemes Exchange add-on then came around to allow for umbrella memberships, which was a simple solution for selling seats to a parent member, who could give those seats to child members. Parent members could add or remove child members, and child members could see who paid for the members. However, purchasers always got an included membership (outside the seat count), and there wasn’t any admin membership around members (ie listing them or editing them), so store owners couldn’t necessarily have full control over the setup.
Are we getting a clear picture yet? Managing group membership accounts is a really complex problem, and there are pros and cons to every solution available.
The newest choice for managing group membership accounts is from Restrict Content Pro: the Group Accounts add-on. This add-on is available to Professional license holders ($199+) and above. The Group Accounts plugin adds a great feature set to Restrict Content Pro to allow both admins and membership group owners to manage their members and their associated access.
After giving this a try, I was impressed with the tools that are available to group account owners and members for using group membership accounts, as the purchasing and management processes are simple for both store owners and their members.
When a “parent” or group owner account changes, the child memberships in the group are automatically updated with respect to subscription level, status, and expiration date so that these memberships are completely synced with the billing in the owner’s account.
On your admin side, you’ll need to make some configuration changes after installing the Group Accounts add-on in order to get group membership access set up.
First, you’ll need to enable group memberships for a particular subscription level under that level’s settings. This is where one of the few downsides comes into play: you must set an available number of seats for a level. When purchased at the level price, the member has this many seats to fill. A purchaser cannot dictate how many seats they’d like to buy.
For all of your subscription levels, you’ll see the maximum seats per level in your “Subscription Levels” list.
If you want to sell memberships with different maximum group sizes, you’ll need levels for each group size you want to offer to your members (ie groups of 5, 10, and 25 would all need different subscription levels).
Now you’ll probably want to change some of the messaging and tools available to members. The first thing I did was adjust my “Welcome” page that members are directed to after registering, and add a link to a “manage groups” page in case the purchased membership is a group membership.
Next, you’ll want to give your members a way to manage any “child” members in their group. That’s where the
[rcp_group_dashboard] shortcode will come into play. I added this on a new page to let members manage their groups from a page within their account.
Finally, you can configure a new email that’s added for group invitations. This email is automatically sent out to a child member when added to a group by the group owner or a group admin.
There are a few new merge tags you can use for your emails to add information to the invite email; be sure to include the
%invitelink% so that new members can access their group membership!
That takes care of the administrative set up for group memberships. Now these memberships are available for purchase, we’ve given owners a way to manage groups, and child members have a way to accept invitations to the group.
Within your membership registration, if a member purchases a group membership, that member will now see additional fields to create a “Group Name” and “Group Description”. Once the purchase is completed, this member will be the group owner, and can manage all other group members.
After paying for the group membership, the member is directed to your “welcome” page after purchase as expected. I’ve linked to my new “manage groups” page, so this member can go right to adding child members or seats to the group membership account.
When the member gets to the group management page, the member will see that they’re the group owner, and they’ve already taken one of the seats available in their group. Here they can add new members to the group by entering basic member information.
For larger groups, the owner can also import a CSV file of members to invite, and manage the group’s basic information.
This group membership dashboard is all on one page, but you could also break this up into your own toggles or “tabbed” area using the other group account shortcodes found in the documentation (for a bit more advanced users). These areas are also templates that can be customized with the help of a developer.
Once some members have been invited, the group owner can see actions available for each member to remove or promote them. A group owner can make other members group admins, which lets other members invite new members to the group. When a member becomes an admin, that member can now access the group management page and add or remove other members. However, the owner can never be demoted or removed.
Once a group is full, the “add member” and “import sections” will be hidden automatically until members are removed, and empty seats are again available.
When a member purchases a membership with Restrict Content Pro, that member typically sees management options for the membership to make changes or cancellations.
However, when a member has been invited to a group for a “child” membership, this member no longer sees management options or invoices. Instead, this member only sees group membership information, and cannot make changes to the membership.
Since Restrict Content Pro only allows users to have one membership at a time, these child members cannot make upgrades or purchase new memberships for themselves.
If a member is an administrator for a group, the member will be able to access the group management dashboard to add other members, but still cannot control any billing access, as this is reserved for the owner.
As an administrator, you still have total control over group memberships that have been purchased, and can manually manage them for your subscribers.
A new “Groups” item is added to the “Restrict” menu where you can view a list of all groups on your site.
From here you can make changes to your groups, such as adding complimentary seats or updating group names and descriptions.
You can also see a list of members for each group by clicking “View Members” for the group. This lets you edit or add new members manually for the group.
This is the only place you’ll view members who are in a group, as the “Members” list is reserved for your paying members (so only group owners are shown there).
The Group Accounts add-on for Restrict Content Pro gives site administrators the tools they need to manage multi-level memberships, while membership group owners can easily purchase and fill seats in their group memberships. I really love that group owners can manage their own invitations and group details without the help of an admin directly after purchase. Even better, they can make other members group admins so that they can add or remove members from the group.
In terms of downsides, groups must always include the original purchaser as the group owner; ownership cannot be transferred, so the owner must have a membership and will always take a seat in the group. This means that a group owner can’t just purchase a group membership for a bunch of other people if desired, but it does ensure they retain billing control of the membership.
I’d also love to be able to set a “unit price” per membership, and allow a group owner to purchase the required number of seats for a level by changing the quantity needed. This would make it much easier to sell memberships to both individuals and to groups without having to create tons of levels with identical content access.
Overall, Group Accounts provides an easy-to-use solution that adds a lot of features to an already excellent membership solution, and I’m excited to see this plugin grow as part of the Restrict Content Pro package.