Let’s face it… building a membership website is not easy. It takes a lot of time, effort, and commitment. Or as they say “it takes 20 years to become an overnight success”.
We both know that building a solid membership site business requires a good strategy and a lot of hard work.
Not only that, but you also have to make sure that your strategy is moving you in the right direction. And this is not an easy task for someone who is starting out.
From my experience, I’ve discovered that not having a rock-solid plan is what’s holding them back. That’s why I want to help YOU on your path and explain what it takes to build a profitable membership site step by step.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is a membership website?
A membership site is a website that has protected content, products, or services that only subscribed members can access.
Here are some examples:
- Online courses
- Podcast or video episodes
- SAAS (Software as a service) services
Membership sites can also offer other benefits like private Facebook groups, product discounts, or offline events.
Now, let’s see what are some of the benefits of running a successful membership business
What are the benefits of memberships?
- Create a predictable recurring revenue
- Build a long-term non-transactional relationship with your audience
- Run your business online and be location independent
- Create better clients and upsell them to higher-value programs that you have
These advantages are the most common ones for most businesses.
But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be more benefits to your specific business.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the disadvantages of this business model
What are the downsides of memberships?
- Often you will have to create some sort of content on a regular basis
- More labor on your side as you will have to provide customer support and manage your online community
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how you can pick the best membership model for you.
How to pick the right membership model
Picking the right membership model is not a trivial thing.
You have to do some market research and figure out what kind of problems can your site solve for your audience.
On top of that, you need to deliver your value on a recurring basis.
If you have a membership site that gives people access to a library of courses – then you will likely need to create a new course every 3-6 months.
Otherwise, why would somebody pay for their subscription on a recurring basis?
The same logic applies to most membership sites. You have to give people a good reason to become and stay a member.
What is a membership model?
A membership model is a business model where individuals pay a recurring fee to access the value that an organization creates.
There are various kinds of membership models.
One of them is a company called DollarShaveClub – a company sells shaving products on a monthly basis.
A more classic example is YouPreneurAcademy – a website that sells video training to people who want to become entrepreneurs.
There are a lot of possibilities here.
It’s just a matter of what can you provide your members in exchange for a monthly fee?
Having that idea is great, but you will have to validate it first before committing to it.
How to validate your membership site idea?
Validating your membership idea is crucial if you want to minimize the risks.
There are 3 main things that you can look at when testing your idea:
- Talk to your audience and pre-sell. You need to ask your target audience if they would be willing to pay to join your membership site. Even if you don’t have one yet. If you have enough people say yes, then you’re onto something. Then you can pre-sell it and offer people to become founding members for a discounted price. If they do that, you will know that they’re serious about it and your idea is worth something in the marketplace.
- Check what your competition is doing. Before starting your membership site, you should research the market and make a list of potential competitors. They don’t have to be direct competitors and mirror your idea 1:1. But they should be offering a similar membership that you want to offer. You can then find people who are members and ask if they like it. If your competition is doing well – congratulations. It’s a good sign that your membership idea will also work.
- Start with an MVP (minimum viable product). If you have a plan to build a complex membership site then I would highly recommend that you don’t do it before you launch. Instead, what you should do is to create an MVP first that offers only the core features first. By doing that you will not have to spend all the time and money building something that people may not like.
What should your membership site include?
It all depends on the nature of your membership site.
You need to keep your audience in mind and deliver the type of content that they want.
With that said, there are certain types of content that are common to multiple membership sites:
- Standalone videos or video training/courses. Video is the most popular form of content. That’s one of the main reasons why membership sites have it as the main pillar of their membership model.
- Downloadable resources. These can include various kinds of PDFs like e-books, checklists, guides, etc.
- Interactive content in the form of quizzes, games, and other types. This type of content is a great way to keep your audience engaged with your membership site.
- Community forums and private chat groups. Many membership site owners to have a private community like a forum or a Slack channel. This makes members feel special and a part of a “tribe” that has the same interests.
How to price your membership site
To price your membership site offer, you need to take into consideration these 2 factors:
- Your membership site’s expenses hosting, domain name, software or plugins, and marketing costs.
- The value of your offer. How much value does your site provide to your target audience so that they can justify paying you X dollars.
To figure out the best price, you will have to experiment and see what your members are willing to pay.
You can also take a look at your competitors and see what they’re charging to get a sense of what is a reasonable price.
It can also be a good idea to start with a lower price first for a limited amount of time.
You can then leverage this offer to get your first founding members for a discounted price.
It will also help you keep them for longer because nobody would want to cancel and then re-join for a higher price.
Another pricing strategy that works well for membership sites is pricing tiers.
Ideally, you would have 2-3 packages that offer different value.
This is sometimes referred to as “three tier pricing strategy“.
When done properly, it can be a great way to get people to buy higher more expensive packages.
How to choose the best membership software and tools
To pick the best membership platform, you will have to have a clear vision of your requirements.
Once you have that in mind, it’s easier to decide which system will be the best for you.
There are essentially 3 types of membership website systems that you can use:
- Online platforms that you don’t own. These include websites like Kajabi, Teachable, Thinkific, and Podia. Their advantages are low maintenance, good support ease of use. But there 2 big disadvantages. First, you don’t own your site. So if something happens to these sites, your membership site will also be affected. And second, they’re limited if you need custom functionality to your membership site. These solutions are good for beginners who are starting out as they’re easy to learn and set up.
- Semi-custom websites built on top of existing plugins. A good example can be a WordPress website built using the Memberpress plugin. WordPress membership websites usually give you a lot of flexibility. They’re relatively easy to extend and build custom features on top. On the flip side, these plugins can be difficult to modify and they don’t always integrate well with other plugins or third-party apps. In that case, you may need to find a freelance WordPress developer to help you with that.
- Fully custom websites. These are websites that you have to build from scratch. This includes creating your own membership system, integrating with payment gateways and email marketing software. It’s fair to say that there is some overlap between the fully custom websites and semi-custom websites built on top of existing plugins or systems. However, the first ones s allow for even greater control than semi-custom websites. These websites are often times by big companies that need to have full control over the whole system. These kinds of websites are usually the most expensive to build and maintain.
Creating content for your membership
The nature of the content that you will be creating for your site will depend a lot on your offer and your audience.
If you’re selling weekly podcast shows to your members it’s going to be way different than if you want to sell video courses.
But regardless of the type of content, there are certain things that I see many people struggle with.
- Seeking perfection. This is probably the biggest roadblock that people face. They’re trying to make their piece of content perfect and that’s why they never start. I prefer progression over perfection. Sure, you have to create good content for your audience. But how do you know if it’s good or not until you get their feedback? And how can you get their feedback if you don’t publish it? Don’t use perfectionism as an excuse not to start and get going. You will improve over time and that’s fine.
- Not having enough ideas. If you don’t know what type of content to produce, there are some things that you can do. To start with you can visit forums, Facebook groups, and Quora to see what your audience is having trouble with. Take a look at the questions that are most popular, read the comments, and engage with people. And the second thing is simply asking. If you have an audience that you serve, why not poll them? Come up with a list of ideas that you think will be interesting to them and ask them to vote. At the end of the day, your job is to serve your audience, so why not ask them what they need help with?
Marketing and maintaining your membership website
When it comes to marketing, the first rule is to know exactly who your target audience is.
The narrower it is, the better.
If you know your target audience well enough, you will be able to figure out where they hang out and what their interests are. Once you know that, it will be much easier for you to create content.
You need to organize your time in a way that would allow you to spend a big chunk of your time (like >=40%) on marketing. This is not a hard rule, but it’s a good guideline. And this is especially true if you’re starting out. If you don’t attract enough clients to your business, you will get discouraged and likely fail.
Now, let’s get to the specifics of how you can market your membership website.
First of all, I’d like you to find out where your ideal clients are. Now, once you do that, create a plan of how you’re going to use those marketing channels to attract those clients.
For example, if your clients are in Facebook groups – you will need to be active in them yourself. If they’re listening to certain types of podcasts, you have to become a guest on those podcasts. At this stage, it’s important not to overcomplicate things and only pick a small number of channels (maybe even one) and dominate it. Remember, focus is power.
Besides that, you will need to produce some sort of content on your own that people can consume for free. Once again, there are many different ways to do it – from social media to podcasts to writing. My favorite ones are blogging and YouTube videos.
The main reason is that they can keep bringing you traffic for a long time. Once your article ranks on Google or your video ranks on YouTube, people will keep coming to your page or channel. I feel like it’s a big advantage over social media posts that are usually gone in a day or so.
Secondly, the reason that I love video content is that more and more people are starting to prefer video over text and audio.
Obviously, every marketing channel has its’ advantages and disadvantages so pick the one that works best for you and stick to it.
Another marketing tip that I have for you is to have a lead magnet on your site to capture people’s emails.
A lot of people who will visit your site may never come back to it. But if you capture their email, you can send your articles and promotions to that email. Apart from that, email is a great way to build trust and relationships with your audience on a scale.