Billing

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As membership fees will make up the primary source of income for sustaining the space, it is important that we have a collection mechanism that:

  • is reliable; the cash flow is good, regular, and can be relied upon
  • is scalable to a large number of users; what works for 5 may not work for 50!
  • doesn't require a person chasing; reduce the work, plus no-one likes asking for money
  • is fair; makes sure everyone pays, on time, without exception or excuse
  • is convenient for members; make it easy to be a member!

Approach

To fulfil this, we really need an automated system for subscriptions, rather than any form of manual collection.

The main payment options that can be automated are:

  • Direct Debit
  • Recuring Credit Card billing
  • Online credit system (Paypal or alike)

Of these, recuring billing to a card is the best option for Makespace, as direct debits are more cumbersome to setup and manipulate, and online credit systems can be just plain annoying. We note however that recurring credit card billing is a higher risk proposition for members than direct debit.

Getting a good card based subscription scheme in place will help address these goals. It will also allow us the potential flexibility to bill other things in the future for additional convenience (like materials) and take other payments (like room hire or donations).

Implementation

To handle credit cards, you need a merchant account and a payment gateway. There are lots out there, but for simplicity and flexibility, PayPal is the best choice that combines the two. Whilst PayPal does also include an add-on option for supporting recurring billing, the web service Recurly can be used to handle the business logic of managing recuring subscription payments, plans and general account maintenance, and (having tested it) is a better choice for simplifying account management. It also provides a nice clean interface out-of-the-box, and an API for potential future applications.

The approximate cost of this subscription and billing system will be:

  • Recurly: $69/month + $0.10/transaction
  • PayPal: £20/month + £0.20/transaction + 3.4%/transaction
  • Total: £65/month + £0.30/transaction + 3.4%/transaction

This mechanism will allow full automation and easy signup for membership subscription fees, with the potential for other features such as materials billing and room booking.

It would also be good to hook this in to a user database connected with access control etc.

Q. Why not pay cash so there are no fees/Why not use a cheaper alternative?
A. Because it pays to have it all "just work". e.g. if it saves loosing a couple of membership fees, it has paid for itself (even ignoring the admin savings)