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What’s a Membership Site … and Should You Create One?

Create a membership site

Create a membership site

Do you wish you could make steady income from your blog?

Maybe your advertising revenue has peaks and troughs. Sure, it’s great to have that chunk of money come in during the holiday season. But when it’s only trickling in the rest of the time it can be frustrating.

Maybe you run a couple of ebook sales each year, which create only a short-term boost in sales. Or perhaps the money you make from promoting affiliate products isn’t consistent.

One great option for earning an ongoing monthly income – especially if your blog is fairly well established and you’ve tried other income streams – is to create a membership site.

What Exactly is a Membership Site?

A membership site is a website that offers paid memberships. It doesn’t necessarily have to be separate from your blog, though you may want to purchase a different domain for it.

Members are usually charged a monthly access fee (though some sites will offer the first month for free or at a discount). In return, they get whatever content you’ve promised them. Most membership sites offer a combination of:

  • teaching content (e.g. a monthly seminar or a weekly Q&A)
  • community elements (e.g. an online forum or chatroom).

If you use WordPress, you can use plugins such as Digital Access Pass, aMember Pro, WooCommerce Memberships or Wishlist Member to create a membership site. (Note: These all require you to pay a fee. Free options are available, but they don’t offer much in the way of options.)

What Can You Offer Through a Membership Site?

You can create a membership site for just about anything: parenting, sports, fiction writing, health and weight loss, and much more. (There are already membership sites for all of these.)

Obviously, your topic needs to be something you can build an ongoing membership around. If you’re selling something people will want only for a limited time (e.g. ’wedding planning’) you’ll find your members leaving frequently.

The only other thing to keep in mind is it needs have something people would pay a monthly fee for. For instance, you might have:

  • a private members’ forum you participate in for a small monthly fee ($1 to $5/month)
  • monthly seminars (audio) or webinars (video) that are either live (with a recording available for members who can’t attend) or pre-recorded ($10+/month)
  • support and coaching for members ($30+/month).

You could also offer some combination of these.

Most membership sites offer full access to their content archive to everyone who joins. This can be a big selling point if your site has been running for a while, and can help you justify raising your price for new members.

Whatever you offer, make sure it’s something you can keep up for years. You don’t want to promise weekly seminars and then burn out after two months.

How Can I Get People to Join My Membership Site?

While it’s great to have ongoing monthly revenue from members, giving people an incentive to sign up for a monthly subscription can be tricky.

Here are some key ways you can make it less risky for them.

Get your pricing right. If you charge too much, people won’t join (or they’ll quickly leave if they don’t think they’re getting their money’s worth). But if you charge too little, you’ll end up doing a lot of work for not much money. People may even avoid joining because they think something so cheap can’t be good.

Phrase it in terms your audience will instantly understand. When you’re introducing your membership site to your readers in a blog post or on the sales page, use phrases such as “online community”, “private community”, “teaching/community site” or whatever else you think will resonate with them.

Offer a free trial and/or a money-back guarantee. Offering a no-hassle refund in their first week or month makes the decision to join much easier for people. Providing a free or cheap trial period can also be a great way to get people in the doors and give them a taste of what you offer. Just be aware it could create a lot of admin work and overheads with people joining for the free trial and then instantly leaving.

Use a ‘freemium’ model. Similar to a free trial, the ‘freemium’ model lets your customers sign up for limited access to your membership site for free. They can then ‘trade up’ to full membership by paying the membership fee. This model is very popular in the software industry. At ProBlogger we currently offer a free membership that includes a library of resources to give our free members some value. If we offered a paid premium membership, our free members would be warm leads and a percentage of them would trade up.

Restrict how often people can join. With online resources such as ebooks, it makes sense for people to be able to buy them whenever they want (though you may still run regular cut-price sales). But with membership sites, people often need an extra nudge to join. Opening registration 2–4 times a year means you can have a big push for new members. It also helps with the community aspect of your site, as lots of new people will be joining at once and getting to know each other.

Alternatives to Creating Your Own Membership Site

If you like the idea of recurring revenue, but don’t want to create and run administer a membership site, here are some options you could also try.

Running a Private Facebook Group

Instead of creating a membership site, you could use a private Facebook group and charge a monthly fee. You can do this by taking PayPal payments and automatically sending new members a link to the private group.

This is a good option if you want to focus on the community aspect rather than the teaching aspect. You may even get more members than you would in an unfamiliar online forum because they’re already using Facebook.

You can use Facebook Live to deliver webinars or teaching content, and upload files (e.g. pdfs) to your Facebook group.

Using Patreon

If you want to give your readers the opportunity to support your work by paying a monthly amount, Patreon could be a great way to do this. You can set different reward levels (e.g. people who give you $1/month get access to an extra monthly blog post, while people who give you $10/month get the opportunity for email consulting).

Patreon is well established and popular among many content creators, particularly podcasters, YouTubers, and web comic artists. Your audience may already be familiar with it and have an account there.

What if Members Leave?

One big concern you might have about running a membership site is how to stop members from leaving.

The short answer is you can’t.

Members will leave, and the rate they do it is called your “churn rate”.

People usually leave because their priorities or circumstances change – not because you’re doing anything wrong.

For instance, someone might sign up for your site with great intentions of taking advantage of the content but then become busy with work.

Of course, you should do what you can to make your site engaging and easy to use. That might mean sending out weekly or monthly summary email to help busy members catch up, or being super-responsive in your forums.

A membership site can be a fantastic way to bring in a regular, predictable income. It can be quite a bit of work to set up and run, but options are available to keep the administration to a minimum.

What ideas could you explore for a membership site that might suit your audience? Let us know your thoughts (along with any membership sites you’ve been a part of) in the comments.

Image credit: Ian Romie Ona

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