Your Definitive Guide To SaaS Freemium Pricing

Serge Frigon

Did you know that 75% of companies either opt for a freemium model or a free trial out of all product-led approaches?

But freemium conversion rates are 140% higher than free trials, which is a staggering difference. 

These figures show us that it’s time to harness this potential of freemium offerings to boost your business’s growth. That’s why we’ve put together a guide that shows you everything you need to know about freemium pricing.


  • Freemium is a pricing strategy offering a free version of the product with upgradeable paid options. Big companies like Apple, Slack, LinkedIn, Dropbox, and Evernote follow this pricing model.
  • Freemium models offer lower entry barriers, drive word-of-mouth growth, provide valuable user data, and create upselling opportunities. But it comes with its fair share of challenges: balancing free/paid offerings, ensuring sustainable revenue, maintaining quality, and attracting ideal users.
  • To structure an effective freemium model, (1) choose your core vs. premium features, (2) define usage limits, and (3) incorporate feedback loops. Transition users from free to paid plans by alerting them, offering trial periods, and running special promotions.

Freemium: The Basics

Playing on the words free and premium, Freemium is a pricing strategy offering a free version of the product with upgradeable paid options. All users can access a basic software version, but only premium subscribers enjoy the exclusive advanced features. 

Businesses use freemium to captivate potential users and entice them to explore a product without a financial commitment. Let’s delve deeper into how it started and how it works.

Origin and evolution of the freemium model

The freemium model can be traced back to the 1980s when Andrew Fluegelman released the PC-Talk software. Public access is free, but users can pay to upgrade its basic features. With the introduction of the internet, this model has evolved significantly over the decades.

Tech giants and software companies like Apple, Slack, LinkedIn, Dropbox, and Evernote have adopted this model. They offer free versions of their platforms/tools to expand their user base. To drive and sustain monetization, users must opt in to some of the following premium services and functionalities:

  • Apple – iCloud storage upgrade and in-app purchases in the App Store
  • Slack – unlimited message archive and higher storage limits
  • LinkedIn – advanced job search filters and access to extensive learning resources
  • Dropbox – higher storage, offline access, file recovery, and version history
  • Evernote – sync unlimited devices, exclusive note-taking widgets, and integrations

Freemium is a go-to strategy for SaaS startups and established players alike. But how exactly does this clever pricing approach tap into the depths of consumer psychology?

The psychological appeal of “free” in consumer behavior

Freemium works by holding a powerful sway over consumer psychology. When something is available for free, it eliminates users’ perceived financial risk. This, in turn, lowers the barrier to entry, encouraging individuals and businesses to try out the product.

The psychological appeal of “free” goes beyond mere cost savings. It piques users’ curiosity and encourages them to use the product or service more—a win-win situation for both users and businesses. We’ll go over these benefits in more detail in the next section.

4 Benefits of a Freemium Pricing Model

Businesses swear by freemium pricing because of these 4 pivotal benefits. Learn what makes it a potent strategy for acquiring and retaining users to elevate your marketing efforts.

Lowering barriers to entry

Freemium breaks down barriers for new users who may hesitate to invest upfront. But unlike time-limited trials, users can continue using this free version for as long as they wish. It’s game-changing for software where users require an extended testing period before committing to a paid plan (e.g., collaboration/communication platforms).

Boosting word-of-mouth growth potential 

88% of consumers trust brand recommendations from people they know. Capitalize on that opportunity by letting new users experience your free product’s benefits. 

Turn them into paying users (a.k.a. brand advocates) who love engaging with your product. Only after they’ve derived value can they vouch for your premium offerings. 

The more recommendations, the greater brand awareness and new customers you’ll gain, expediting the growth of your user base.

Accumulating a larger user base for data insights

Every user-freemium product interaction generates valuable data. SaaS companies can harness such data to understand user behavior, preferences, and pain points. These insights can power feature development and improvements.

For instance, analyzing login times and usage patterns might reveal that many users sign up and actively engage initially. Leverage these insights to continue the strong start and avoid drop-offs. You can easily implement targeted strategies like gamification elements to re-engage users, improving churn/retention rates.

Upselling opportunities for premium features

Freemium models entice free users with core features (i.e., functionalities designed to address users’ primary needs or pain points). This initial interaction inspires a self-reinforcing growth cycle where more users become paying customers—a.k.a. the network effect. Businesses employ upselling tactics like feature gating and multiple premium tiers for this.

This study on Apple’s App Store policy demonstrates that freemium models contribute to stronger network effects. Market leaders who employed such strategies experienced a significant revenue boost compared to followers. With all these benefits, freemium offerings can set the stage for long-term industry leadership.

Common Challenges with Freemium Pricing

Exploring the challenges of freemium pricing is essential for an in-depth understanding of this model. Beyond its apparent advantages, acknowledging these limitations equips you with what’s needed to refine your approach and navigate potential pitfalls.

Balancing free and paid offerings

Deciding what’s free and exclusive puts any entrepreneur in a tough spot. Giving away too much for free can dilute the perceived value of premium features. Offering too little can dissuade users from trying the product. To navigate this, companies rely on user surveys and usage analytics to detect the most-used features and areas where users might be hitting limitations. A/B testing your pricing strategy using your SaaS billing software can also help you tweak your pricing strategy and plan offerings.

Ensuring sustainable revenue streams

While a freemium business model attracts potential customers, it doesn’t guarantee steady profits on its own. The revenue generated from paying customers must cover the costs associated with serving both free and premium users. These include customer acquisition cost (CAC)—or the cost of acquiring new users—and ongoing maintenance.

Maintaining quality and reputation

Freemium strategies can sometimes lead to subpar user experiences if it only comes with minimal support or updates. Commit to delivering a high-quality product experience to all users, regardless of status. This fosters customer satisfaction and higher brand equity.

Attracting potential non-ideal users

Free services attract a broad range of users, not all of whom are your ideal customers. These non-ideal users may strain customer support resources and offer feedback less relevant to your core objectives. 

To manage these challenges, let’s go over some actionable tips for structuring your freemium business model. 

How to Structure a Freemium Model Effectively

Unlocking the full potential of a freemium pricing strategy demands a thoughtful and strategic approach. Here’s how to structure this model and reap its benefits while mitigating potential challenges along the way. When done right, these could also motivate users to upgrade to premium.

1. Decide core vs. premium features

Choosing between core and premium features is a make-or-break step in setting up your freemium right—your profitability depends on it. Core features should provide enough value to attract and retain users. Premium features must be compelling enough to motivate them to explore the paid options. 

Here are some ideas to help you get there.

  • User Research. Understand what your target users truly value. Survey them, analyze their behavior, and identify the features they can’t do without.
  • Tiered Offerings. Create clear distinctions between what’s free and what’s not. While you’re at it, see to it that the premium features are worth the subscription fee.
  • A/B Testing. Experiment with different feature sets for free and premium users. What resonated best to them, and what didn’t? Adjust accordingly.

Balancing your core and premium features isn’t a one-time decision but an ongoing optimization process. Adapt your offerings regularly to drive conversions and ensure long-term profitability.

2. Determine usage limitations for free users

Abuse of free services can happen, so define usage limits from the start. These thresholds may include storage limits, numbers of users, or other restrictions on specific functionalities.

Communicate these limitations transparently to all users during the onboarding process or in user guides. Doing so eliminates frustration and promotes a more positive user experience.

3. Incorporate feedback loops to refine offerings

SaaS businesses use feedback loops to ensure their products remain relevant and competitive. Establish accessible channels for user feedback, including surveys, user forums, or direct communication networks. 

Listen to what both users are saying and adapt your model to their needs and preferences. This user-centric approach not only improves satisfaction and retention. It’s also the key to converting free users to premium plans, which we’ll cover in the next section.

How to Transition Users from Free to Paid Plans

Trust is a priceless commodity in SaaS freemium. It’s not enough that you offer compelling free features; free users must see the value of upgrading as well. Follow these practices to earn their trust and increase your revenue stream during this transition.

Engage and educate free users on premium benefits

Brainstorm how your product’s advanced features solve specific challenges in your ideal customer’s day-to-day operations.

Does your project management tool have exclusive features like Gantt charts? Highlight how it can manage multiple tasks and streamline complex project timelines. 

Personalize your messaging and in-app notifications with images, videos, or interactive guides to make your offerings irresistible. Pro-tip: Address users by name and recommend premium features based on their usage patterns.

Offer trial periods for premium features

Trials allow users to experience the full range of paid features on top of basic access. This hands-on experience helps existing freemium users understand the value of your premium plans. 

Elevate this persuasive conversion strategy by creating a sense of urgency with time-limited trials. You can display a countdown timer within the application and add progress indicators or send reports on how these time-limited features help (e.g., hours saved on manual work).

Run special promotions or discounts

Special discounts and vouchers are a tried-and-tested tactic to incentivize upgrades. Think about it: In 2021, Americans redeemed over 337 million digital vouchers in a year. That’s a conversion booster you don’t want to overlook. 

Exclusive discounts during holidays or special events may appeal to users who may have been considering an upgrade. You can also offer vouchers to existing premium users to start a referral chain.

Real-Life Examples of Successful Freemium Models

These real-life examples of freemium models have captured the market’s attention. Let’s understand the strategies that propelled them to the top.


Spotify, the world’s largest music streaming service, follows a freemium model since its launch in 2006. 

Listeners have access an extensive library of songs for free with intermittent ads. But for those seeking an uninterrupted jamming session, the premium version offers an ad-free experience, offline downloads, and unlimited skips.

Spotify currently has 210 million premium subscribers worldwide—and this success isn’t random. It’s the result of smart strategies like premium subscription trials, discounted plans for students and families, algorithm-driven playlists, and tailored music recommendations. 


Trello is a popular project management tool that leveraged its freemium strategy to cater to a diverse user base.

Individuals and teams can create boards, lists, and cards to manage tasks. However, working across teams and using additional features like built-in team collaboration tools and integrations require a paid subscription.

Trello’s freemium model is structured with a focus on user segmentation, offering tailored plans for different needs. The paid version has 4-tiered pricing options for individuals, small teams, multi-managed teams, and large-scale organizations.

It’s a clever move because it acknowledges that paying users have different needs. Our takeaway: understand what your target users require, then meet and exceed their expectations to yield favorable results.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, meeting participants skyrocketed by 2900%. Zoom capitalized on this surge by offering a free plan with time limitations and limited features.

But here’s the real success story: Zoom’s timing, scalability, and ease of access were impeccable. As global remote teams flocked to the platform, Zoom’s core features effectively met their immediate needs. 

This initial encounter not only left a positive impression but also paved the way for a seamless transition to the paid version. Even in economic downturns, a well-planned freemium approach can’t only attract and retain users but also generate huge returns.


This story goes the opposite direction: Klipfolio, a business intelligence platform, used to charge per seat. This worked when the SaaS tool was targeting large enterprises.

But when they pivoted to serve SMBs, the company had to rethink their pricing strategy. They were able to find the right fit for their new audience, which included a freemium model and more premium tiers. This revelation came after a 2-month A/B testing of various pricing models through their subscription management system. 

Go Freemium Today

The Freemium model is a clever marketing strategy that helps acquire, engage, and retain users. 

But SaaS is a competitive industry. You’ll have to structure your freemium strategy and plan how to turn free users into high-paying patrons. Let feedback and data from subscriptions drive your strategy. Learn how Stax Bill subscription management and analytics can help.

FAQs about Freemium Pricing

What is freemium pricing?

Freemium pricing is a business model where a company offers basic services for free, while charging for premium features, services, or functionalities. The term “freemium” comes from the words “free” and “premium,” and it aims to attract users by offering core functionalities at no cost. 

After users are engaged and find value in the service, they have the option to pay for additional features that enhance or extend the core functionalities. Freemium pricing is commonly used in software and digital services, such as mobile apps, cloud storage, and Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms, although it can be applied to other sectors as well.

How does freemium pricing work?

A freemium pricing model has two main components. There’s the free tier in which users can access certain features or services for free. This level usually has limitations, such as reduced functionality, ads, or restrictions on usage. 

Then there are premium tiers. These are paid options that offer additional features, capabilities, or resources that are not available in the free tier. Premium tiers can come in different pricing plans based on the scope of features, amount of storage, level of customization, or other variables.

What are the benefits of freemium pricing?

The main benefits of freemium pricing is it  helps SaaS companies drive word-of-mouth growth from users who are getting value out of the software’s free features. Not only that, but the freemium pricing model provides valuable user data, which can inform your decisions around product, marketing, and customer support.


Written by:

Serge Frigon
Serge Frigon
Director of Product, Stax Bill

Serge Frigon is Stax Bill’s Director of Product. He is passionate about improving billing processes for SaaS companies. With 20+ years in SaaS and billing software systems, Serge has a first-hand view of how important financial insights can be to the health of a company.