If you’re an online creator, I’m sure you’ve thought about establishing a recurring revenue source for your business. The most popular way to do this is to create a membership site.
Memberships are a great way to monetize your content, create a community of loyal followers, and build a stable monthly income.
While all this seems very exciting, creating a membership site isn’t that easy, as many moving pieces are involved. Plus, it takes a lot of effort to create something that people are willing to pay for regularly.
But fear not, I’m here to help!
In this article, I’ll show you how to create a membership site from scratch. This step-by-step guide covers everything you need to know about planning, building, and growing a membership site.
What Is a Membership Site and Why Create One?
A membership website is a subscription-based online business model where customers pay a monthly or annual fee to access exclusive content on your site.
Unlike an online course, where you create content once and customers can buy it, a membership site requires you to create content on an ongoing basis, and your customers need to subscribe to access the content.
The exciting thing about a membership site is that there’s no definite endpoint, so you can keep adding new content to it. This way, you can cover various topics and themes and target a much wider audience.
You can create various types of content for your membership website, including online courses, standalone videos, live sessions, digital downloads, coaching, and much more.
Yet, the key is that the site is gated and only available to its members. So unless one pays for the members-only content, they cannot access it.
The most prominent example of a membership model is Netflix, which charges its customers on a monthly or annual basis for giving them the ability to stream movies, documentaries, and TV series.
But you can find successful membership site examples in almost any niche, be it health and fitness, yoga, religion and spirituality, or even professional niches.
For example, we run a popular membership website in the cybersecurity niche at StationX, where our users pay an annual fee to access all of our content.
Now, the subscription-based membership model has several advantages, which is why so many online creators prefer this option:
- It can help you create a stable and predictable revenue source for your business.
- Community is an essential aspect of a membership site, so it’s a great way to build a long-term relationship with your audience.
- Membership sites are supposed to be super flexible in terms of structure and content creation, so you can launch one with little upfront investment in terms of content.
- User payments are spread over time with a membership website, making it more accessible to a broader audience.
- Subscription commerce has been growing at a CAGR of 18%, making it an incredible opportunity for growth.
While memberships are a great business model, they aren’t suitable for everyone.
This is because creating a profitable membership isn’t a one-month project. It takes a lot more time than that and requires a significant commitment to being successful.
You’ll need to create content and engage your members on an ongoing basis to keep them subscribed to your membership, which can be a challenge.
Another crucial thing to consider is whether your members are looking to solve an ongoing problem or a specific problem. Because if it’s the latter, building a membership site won’t be the right option.
Finally, your members’ payments are spread over time, so building a full-time income from membership websites takes longer—which might be an issue depending on your financial goals.
Suggested Reading: How Much Does It Cost to Build a Membership Website?
Generally speaking, if you’re just starting and this is your first online business, I suggest you stay away from the membership site model.
Instead, if you’re OK with the commitment aspect and willing to put in the hard work, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t create a membership website. It doesn’t matter what niche you’re in or your level of expertise.
Choose a Membership Site Model
Before you start working on a membership site idea, you should first figure out the model that better suits your needs. You must get this part right; otherwise, scaling or making your membership successful will be challenging.
The thing about membership sites is that, unlike other business models, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach.
A membership site can take several different forms, and to decide on the best model, you should first clarify what a “perfect membership” would look like to you:
- Do you want the membership to be the primary source of revenue for you? Or do you just want to add another revenue stream to your business?
- Do you want to be involved in the community, or do you want to keep interaction minimum?
- Would you prefer creating most of the content upfront or releasing it regularly?
- What type of content do you want to offer inside your membership?
Once you have answered these questions, choosing the best model for your membership website will be easier.
With this in mind, let’s look at some of the popular membership site models that you can adopt.
The publisher model is the most commonly used model for membership websites. It is also one of the most straightforward models to adopt, especially if you’re just starting.
With this model, you publish new content on an ongoing basis. It could be a monthly, biweekly, or weekly publishing routine where you offer fresh content to your members.
The content can be anything from a video, a podcast, or an article, to live training or a webinar.
A good example of the Publisher Model is Mixergy Premium, where members get access to a new interview every week and a new masterclass every month.
This model depends on your publishing routine and what type of content you’ll provide to your members. So before you pick a topic, make sure that you will be able to create enough content for your members over time.
Drip Feed Model
This is another popular model that membership sites use. It is similar to the publisher model as it involves a monthly subscription fee in exchange for access to new content every month.
However, you generally have a set content curriculum that gets released to your members at a fixed schedule. Therefore, irrespective of when someone joins your membership, they’ll get the same content delivered.
For example, TrainingBeta runs an evergreen membership site for their Bouldering Training Program, where they feed three unique workouts to their members every week.
The advantage of this model is that you can create content up front and then set it to drip based on a members’ signup date. This way, you can keep your membership site running all year round.
Another advantage is that the content is fed to members in smaller chunks, giving them enough time to thoroughly consume and engage with the content—which also helps increase customer retention rates.
Online Course Model
A membership site is an excellent way to run your online courses since you can bundle them together and sell them as a subscription.
With this model, you can gradually release your course content—like the drip-feed model—or take an activity-based delivery approach where a user must complete the previous modules or pass a test to access the next ones.
Alternatively, you can immediately grant members access to the entire course library once they complete the signup process.
This is exactly how we run our VIP Membership @ StationX, where we grant users access to 200+ courses as soon as they become paid subscribers.
Online courses are considered a premium product. As a result, course-based memberships are pretty popular among both students and creators.
Online Coaching Model
The coaching membership model—also known as group coaching—allows your members to access a fixed number of coaching sessions every month.
The idea behind this model is that you offer live coaching calls, webinars, or office hours where members can join the session, interact with you and other participants, ask questions, and get support.
For example, Charly Caldwell runs a membership site called Life & Business Mastery Community, and his most important offering is a monthly group coaching call.
The upside of a coaching model is that you don’t need to create much content up front, and it’s pretty straightforward to execute.
Some creators also offer one-on-one coaching sessions as part of their membership site. However, it’s not very scalable, so I recommend sticking to the group coaching format.
Online Community Model
With a community-based membership site, your members pay a recurring fee to be part of a private community. Here, they can engage with other like-minded individuals and have conversations about a specific topic.
The community area generally includes forums, chatrooms, and discussion areas where members can interact.
As a creator, you can also offer additional features to your members, such as helpful content, email updates, virtual events, member meetups, etc., to build a strong membership community.
For example, Pat Flynn runs his membership site Smart Passive Income Pro, using an online community model.
The best part about this membership model is that people are likely to stay with you as active paying members much longer once they have built strong connections in your community.
As you may have guessed, a hybrid model is a combination of different membership models designed to align with your audience and meet your goals.
The hybrid model is a perfect option to provide your subscribers with a more complete and better membership experience. Therefore, I suggest it for your membership.
For instance, you can build a membership site that includes online courses, weekly live coaching calls, and a community component.
This is what Emily Masnoon does for her My Aligned Pregnancy membership. She offers video lessons, weekly yoga practice resources, monthly live coaching calls, etc.
While the hybrid model may seem overwhelming, you have a lot of flexibility to mix and match different models and develop your unique model.
Plan Your Membership Website
Now that you figured out the most suitable model for your membership site, it’s time to plan what will go inside it.
It’s essential to get this part right because the success of your membership rests largely on your content and engagement strategy.
Let’s start by talking about how you can create an optimal content strategy for your membership.
Membership Content Strategy
One of the biggest challenges of running a membership site is planning out the content strategy. It’s the key to keeping your members engaged.
Still, at the same time, it can be challenging to stick to a regular publishing schedule as there’s just too much to focus on when you’re starting out.
Moreover, if you don’t plan it carefully, you might get caught on a content treadmill where you need to churn out content endlessly, ultimately burning yourself out.
Begin by asking yourself how much content you can create and how you plan on doing it. Don’t think about stringent deadlines for now. Instead, think about the number of content pieces you want to release every month and break it down weekly.
The key here is to focus on quality rather than quantity. As long as your content is aligned with what your members want and delivers genuine value, you’ll be good.
Now, let’s talk about the two essential types of content you must provide in your membership.
Core Content vs. Monthly Content
Core content is the foundational content serving as a baseline for all your members. Ideally, it should be the first piece of content a new member comes across as they join your membership.
It should naturally appeal to your members and help them kickstart their membership success journey. You should create training for all stages in that success journey.
For example, Nak Muay Nation, a membership for Muay Thai students, has a mini-courses section where they cover essential topics such as Muay Thai fundamentals, power punching, workouts, etc.
Unlike core content, monthly content is what you deliver each month. It’s the stuff that will keep your members engaged and help them move along the membership journey.
Again, Nak Muay Nation has a monthly curriculum where they release training content focused on specific topics every month.
Offer Content in Multiple Modalities
To create content, the first thing you need to do is decide the format.
As far as core content is concerned, it has to be structured and is delivered best in the online course format.
On the other hand, you can deliver monthly content in various ways. For example, you can release monthly training videos, host Q&A sessions, do live coaching calls or expert interviews, etc.
However, irrespective of the format you choose, you should use a variety of modalities to deliver your content.
If a person learns one way and you don’t provide content in that manner, they’ll give up on it and not consume your content.
So, if you have video training, you can extract the audio and make it available to your members. Alternatively, you could summarize the entire video in a PDF workbook.
Produce Content in Batches
For the actual content production, I suggest you do it in batches. This helps you stay off the content treadmill and gives you enough space before releasing the next batch.
You should have at least one month of content ahead of your publishing schedule. By doing so, you will get a head start and won’t rush through your deliverables.
The key to batch-producing content is to have a content calendar in place. Ideally, it would be best to have a plan for 12 months. This way, you’ll know which content can be produced in batches and which needs to be created separately.
If you’d like to get a copy of this membership content calendar template, you can download it here.
Finally, what complements the batching strategy very well is producing evergreen content. We recommend you keep your content as evergreen as possible—no dates or other information should give away the time frame of when it was initially published.
Member Onboarding Experience
Member engagement is one of the most critical factors for your membership’s long-term growth and success. And you can do much more to engage your members than just creating valuable content.
The first thing you should focus on is your member onboarding experience.
When onboarding new members to your membership site, it’s important to ensure they have a smooth and enjoyable experience. Here are some tips to make sure your onboarding process is successful:
- Make sure you have a clear and concise welcome message for new members. This should explain your membership site theme and what they can expect from being a member.
- Give new members a tour of your membership to familiarize themselves with the layout and navigation.
- Provide members with a roadmap for consuming your content and progressing in their membership journey.
- Celebrate each new member and make them feel like part of the tribe. Welcome them and give them a shout-out in community and chats.
- Make it easy for members to contact you if they need help or have questions, and make sure you respond to the questions promptly.
By following these tips, you can be sure that your new members will have a great experience on your site.
Suggested Reading: 11 Top Membership Retention Strategies That Work
While people join a membership website for the content, they stick for the community.
Building an engaged online community for your membership site can be a great way to foster a sense of connection and belonging among your members, and it can improve member retention.
Here are some tips on how to do it:
1. Make it easy for members to connect
Make sure that your community has features that facilitate connecting with each other. A good community platform will have a searchable member directory, discussion areas, groups, and private messaging.
2. Encourage members to interact with each other
Make sure that your community’s content encourages members to interact with each other. This could include blog posts, community discussions, polls, and quizzes.
3. Encourage members to participate in activities and events
Make sure that your membership site has content that encourages members to participate in activities and events. This could include live coaching calls, group chats, virtual meetups, etc.
4. Incorporate gamification to boost participation
One way to make your membership site more engaging is to incorporate gamification.
For example, you could give members points for every post they make on the forums or badges for completing specific tasks. You could even have a leaderboard that ranks members based on their activity level.
An engaged community can go a long way in ensuring the success of your membership site, so it’s important to put serious effort into building one.
Decide Your Membership Pricing Strategy
Now that you’ve done your initial research and planning, it’s time to focus on one of the most critical aspects of your membership site: pricing.
It’s essential to get your pricing strategy right to help you market your membership and improve membership retention.
Your membership pricing has a few critical components that you’ll need to figure out to get your pricing strategy right:
- Price Point: How much will your membership cost?
- Monthly vs. Annual Subscription: Will you offer a monthly option, an annual option, or both?
- Tiered Pricing: Will you create multiple membership levels, and how will they be priced?
On top of these, there are other elements like offering a free trial and charging a setup fee that you may want to consider using.
Pick a Price Point for Your Membership
Deciding the right price point for your membership can be tricky, and unfortunately, there is no exact science for this. However, if you follow a few simple rules, it won’t be difficult.
As a rule of thumb, you should price your membership between $10 and $50 per month. This is what most membership site owners do.
A research study found that more than 80% of memberships are priced below the $50/month mark, while only 18% have a price point greater than $50/month.
Membership pricing varies greatly, and the niche is the most important factor influencing this decision.
For example, if you’re in a niche where you’re teaching people how to make money or save money, you can charge a higher price for your membership.
You can find many memberships in business-related niches with a $25-$50 per month price point.
For example, Mixergy Premium, which teaches entrepreneurs how to launch and grow a business, is priced at $49/month.
On the other hand, you’ll generally charge a lower membership fee if you’re in a hobby or passion niche. Most sites in these niches are priced at $10-$25 per month.
For example, Training Beta’s membership site in the bouldering niche is priced at $14.99/month.
Apart from the niche, your membership model and the value you offer can significantly influence your price point.
For example, if your membership includes a strong coaching component, you can consider pricing your membership higher, possibly in the $100+ per month range.
That is precisely what Charly Caldwell II does for his Life & Business Mastery Community. His membership’s primary offering is group coaching, and he charges $297/month.
Another thing you should do to pick a price point for your membership is to analyze your competition. If there are other membership sites in your niche, look at their offering and how they’re priced.
Finally, I suggest you start with a lower price for your membership and gradually increase the price as your audience grows. This will give you the time to test your price point and improve your product.
Monthly vs Annual Subscription
Once you have an idea about your membership’s price point, it’s time to choose what subscription options you want to offer.
While creators offer monthly, quarterly, annual, and even lifetime payment options, the monthly and yearly options are the most popular ones.
The first thing you should think about is whether you’ll offer a monthly subscription or an annual one. Both options have pros and cons, and you should weigh them before deciding.
A recurring monthly subscription is a no-brainer and a pretty straightforward payment model. Monthly payments are relatively easier to sell since they require less commitment and seem more affordable.
However, you also allow your members to cancel at any time, so you need to deliver value to your audience immediately and continuously; otherwise, members might opt out of the subscription anytime.
On the other hand, a yearly subscription model is harder to sell because it’s more expensive upfront. However, you don’t have to worry about your members leaving each month, as you’ll get the money upfront with a guaranteed 12 months of retention.
Annual subscriptions also give you the time and flexibility to prove the actual value of your offering over 12 months instead of a short 30-day period, where your audience may not get the entire value and decide to leave the subscription.
That’s why, at StationX, we only offer an annual subscription option for our VIP Membership.
Having said that, I recommend that you offer both pricing options to your customers. Make sure to provide a significant discount on the annual subscription and make it more attractive for them to choose.
Such a pricing model gives you the best of both worlds. You’ll be able to capture those who can afford to pay a higher subscription fee while not losing out on those who aren’t ready for an annual commitment.
Tiered Membership Pricing
One of the most effective pricing strategies for membership sites is creating multiple access levels.
Firstly, it can be a great way to increase your transaction size and maximize your average revenue per subscriber.
For example, you can have a lower level with all the core membership benefits and a premium tier with additional perks like 1:1 coaching calls, email support, etc.
Emily Masnoon follows this strategy for her My Aligned Pregnancy membership. She offers a regular tier costing $59/month, and a VIP tier for $199/month.
Another advantage of multi-tiered pricing is that it allows you to target users at different levels in their journey.
For instance, if you run a marketing training membership, your subscribers might be both beginner and experienced marketers.
In this case, your lower pricing tier could include beginner-level courses, while the higher tier could also include access to advanced courses.
With grandfathered pricing, your members keep paying the same price for a subscription even when changing the pricing for new customers.
It is both a marketing tactic and a pricing strategy, and it can be highly effective if used correctly.
During your initial launch, you can use it as an incentive by creating a sense of urgency for members to sign up before the deal closes and prices increase.
Or, you can use it as a strategy to boost retention by reminding users that if they cancel their subscription, they won’t be able to join the membership at the same price again.
We have been using this strategy in our VIP Membership from day zero, and it helped us get an initial set of subscribers, improve our sales, and improve our retention rates.
Choose a Membership Site Platform
Now, it’s time to get your membership site up and running, and you should select the best membership platform to do that.
There are plenty of options available on the market, and each has something unique to offer. Plus, there’s no particular membership site software that will support every model, so it can get confusing for creators to find the right platform.
This section will discuss some of the best membership site platforms creators use, their benefits, and who should use them.
Here are my top three recommendations for the same.
My top recommendation for building a membership site is Kajabi, as it is the most flexible and feature-rich membership website builder among all the hosted platforms.
You can create online courses with videos, audio, assessments, etc. You can release your content immediately or drip-feed based on a predefined schedule.
Besides online courses, you can build a content library or just deliver some standalone training with its Product Themes feature. It also lets you create a private community for your members.
Another great thing about the platform is that it offers a free mobile app for your end-users, improving the mobile user experience and making it great for engagement.
Regarding pricing and payments, you can charge a monthly or annual subscription, create multiple tiers, and offer your subscribers both card and PayPal payment options.
However, the most inviting thing about Kajabi is that it’s an all-in-one platform.
It allows you to build a fully-fledged brand website, create a marketing blog, build end-to-end funnels, do email marketing and automation, and run your affiliate program.
Kajabi is ideal for those looking for a single platform to run their entire business and not only take care of membership creation and management.
Thinkific is a popular hosted course platform on the market that lets you build a membership website with ease.
Unlike Kajabi, the platform focuses on the core features for building and running your membership website.
With Thinkific, you can build engaging courses with various content types, including videos, assignments, quizzes, live classes, etc.
Thinkific also allows you to add content to standalone pages and restrict access based on a member’s plan, which is great if you want to deliver standalone content.
Additionally, the platform lets you add a community area to your membership website.
When it comes to selling your membership, you can create a monthly or annual subscription, offer a free trial, or even charge a setup fee. You can also create multiple access tiers for your membership.
Moreover, the platform offers handy sales and marketing tools for membership websites like sales page builder, 1-click upsells, coupons, affiliate marketing, etc.
Overall, Thinkific is a solid option, and I recommend it to those looking for a standalone platform for building a membership site.
My third recommendation is Mighty Networks, which is pretty different from mainstream membership platforms.
The platform is focused more on community building and engagement, and it offers best-in-class features for the same.
It allows you to build an engaged community and create full articles, posts, polls, quizzes, subgroups within your community, and host live events and other valuable features such as a group chat, member directory, etc.
Apart from being a powerful community builder, Mighty Networks lets you create online courses within your community and sell them separately or as part of the membership.
The good thing is that your members can access your community and courses through web browsers and their free mobile app. You can also get branded apps for your membership if you want.
Finally, the platform has inbuilt monetization tools, so you can set the pricing for your membership and process payments.
Therefore, if you want to create a community-focused membership site, Mighty Networks will be a great option for you.
If you would like to explore the platform in more detail, check out this Mighty Networks review.
Now, these aren’t the only options available on the market. There are many other membership platforms, including WordPress membership plugins, even though one of these three should work for most creators.
Another thing worth noting is that you can run a basic membership site without using any specialized membership plugin in some cases.
For instance, a friend of mine has been running her membership site via Facebook Groups and using other free, readily available tools like Google Docs and Zoom. Despite this, her membership site does well, and she has built a loyal community.
However, using a good membership site software will make things much easier for you, and I recommend you use one from the start.
Market Your Membership Site
You’ve spent a lot of time, effort, and money building your membership website, and now it’s time to promote it and get new members.
Marketing for membership sites isn’t all that different from marketing online courses, and you can use many of the same strategies for your membership.
However, it’s critical to have a clear marketing plan in place, and in this section, I’ll discuss how you can create one for your membership.
Create a Content Marketing Strategy
Promoting your membership will be much easier if you already have an audience. Otherwise, you’ll need to build an engaged audience from scratch.
The best way to do this is through content marketing.
Usually, the first step in the process is to decide what type of content you want to create. Depending on your niche and audience, you may want to create blog posts, videos, or podcasts.
Then, you’ll have to choose a platform where your potential customer hangs out. You’ll then share valuable content with the platform users and get them to engage with your brand.
There are so many different platforms where you can find your tribe—including Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, etc.
In the beginning, I suggest that you focus on one platform rather than targeting all platforms under the sun. And start with the platform that makes the most sense for you.
For example, if you’re in a professional niche, you may want to start with LinkedIn. On the other hand, if you’re in a creative/DIY niche, Pinterest may be a good place to begin.
Build a Follow-Up Funnel
While it’s good to have more people following you on social media and consuming your content, you must build an email list. To do that, you’ll need an automated funnel.
This funnel will determine the customer’s path from signing up to your list to subscribing to the paid membership. Your funnel should have three components:
- Lead Magnet: Your funnel should start with a free, useful resource, and people must subscribe to your email list to download this freebie.
- Welcome Campaign: Once someone subscribes to your list, you should send them follow-up emails to educate them about the problem and provide a solution.
- Sales Campaign: This is where you sell your membership. Again, you’ll have an automated email series to tell users about your membership, answer their questions, and push them to subscribe.
This approach allows you to build an engaged email list that you’ll be able to market your membership to at any point.
Do a Founding Member Launch
I first learned about this strategy in Stu McLaren’s The Membership Experience course and applied the same while launching StationX’s VIP Membership.
Since then, I have done a few beta launches, and for me, this has to be the most effective strategy for kickstarting a membership site.
The idea is to do a limited launch of your membership to a small group of people. During the beta launch, you allow members to join at the lowest price ever, and they also get locked in at the price they pay.
These initial subscribers become your founding members, and you’ll work with them to refine your membership and the experience.
Overall, a founding member launch works very well, and helps you test your membership idea, get your initial subscribers, and improve your product.
The best part about this strategy is that you don’t even need to build the complete membership site; you just need an idea and some initial content to do a beta launch.
There are many different ways you can launch your membership site, and like most other business models, the key is to get to know your audience.
Promote Through Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is a popular strategy to reward a commission to anyone who sends new members to your site.
This gives your members, fans, and online entrepreneurs an incentive to promote your membership site to their audience.
The best part about affiliate marketing is that you pay a commission to an affiliate only after they generate a successful sale for you, which means you can start with an extremely low budget.
The key to success with affiliate marketing is hiring quality affiliates.
You can start by reaching out to the top blogs, Youtube channels, forums, etc., in your niche and asking them to join your affiliate program.
After that, it’s all about engaging your affiliates and getting them to promote your membership.
Recommended Reading: How to Start an Affiliate Program for Your Business
Conclusion and What’s Next?
Membership sites are one of the best online business models in existence. They help by adding a recurring revenue stream to your business while allowing you to build a strong community.
Even though these benefits don’t come easy and require a lot of work and time, creating a membership site is worth it.
In this step-by-step guide, I’ve shown you how to create a membership site from scratch.
We covered different topics, including planning your membership, picking the right software, and marketing your membership website.
Now it’s your turn to implement what you’ve learned in this guide. While doing it, focus on getting things done rather than waiting for them to be perfect.
I hope you found this guide helpful. If you have any questions or feedback, please leave a comment below, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
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