How to Create a Successful Membership Website
Summary: Membership sites are a great way to generate passive, recurring revenue. In this post, we cover the top benefits of membership sites and the 8 keys to making your membership website a success.
What is a Member Site and Why You Should Create One
Membership sites are one of the most popular online business models for small businesses, solo entrepreneurs, and freelancers. That’s because they have to potential to fill one of your biggest dreams – passive, recurring revenue.
In a membership site, users join and pay in order to receive exclusive access to content online – such as training, resources, or services. Whenever they stop paying, they stop receiving this access. Depending on the membership model, payments can be one-time only or recurring, such as annual or monthly. They can be fixed-term or ongoing.
Membership sites do take a bit of work and planning to set up, but they have many solid benefits for your business.
Benefit #1: Leverage Your Skills and Knowledge
First, your membership site gives you the chance to leverage your skills and knowledge. You have unique knowledge that you’ve gained through experience. You can teach this knowledge to others. Your membership site can be like a storehouse for ideas proven to help your members solve their problems.
Benefit #2: Enhance Credibility
Another benefit of running your own membership site is that it enhances your credibility and authority. Nothing says “authority” like someone who has their own site with a robust and active membership. It shows that you’re a superstar in your niche or industry.
Benefit #3: Recurring Revenue
Your membership site creates a revenue stream and opens the door to further profits, both directly and indirectly. If you have a recurring payment, this money goes straight to you after paying for the site’s upkeep.
Benefit #4: A Captive Audience
With a membership site, you now have a very tuned-in audience. Some would argue that paying members are an even better audience than email subscribers in terms of how engaged they are. This makes them a great audience for testing new products.
When you’re developing a new product to sell on the market, you can offer it to your members first, either free or at a reduced price. Your members, who are advocates of your brand and already know your products well, can give you great feedback. You can use this feedback to make necessary improvements, and then release an improved product on the market.
Nothing says “authority” like someone who has their own site with a robust and active membership. It shows that you’re a superstar in your niche or industry.
Benefit #5: Best Market Research Available
The people who have joined your site are perfect representatives of your market. As you get to know them, you can get valuable information and feedback on this market.
Create a space for your members to communicate with one another and, whenever possible, you should communicate with them. Listen in on their conversations on your forum and post questions or comments to get them talking. If your site has member profiles, study each new member and look for patterns.
All of these efforts can be totally transparent. In fact, telling your members that you’d like to get their opinions for future product launches may prompt them to give you even more information than you’d get by observing their conversations.
You can also conduct formal market surveys to find out information about your audience. These work best if you give people some small incentive, such as a freebie or discount, for taking the time to do your survey.
All in all, running a membership site is an excellent business model and a great way to get to know your market inside and out. Read on to learn the 8 Keys to a building a successful membership site.
Key #1: Understand Why People Join Membership Sites
Nowadays, membership sites are becoming more popular than ever. If you’re thinking about starting your own membership site, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to consider why people join them.
People join membership sites in order to gain access to content they can’t get anywhere else. This exclusive content is highly valuable for them, which is why they’re willing to pay for it. They need the tips, resources, courses, workbooks, services, support and so on that the site offers.
People also join these sites in order to gain access to experts. Like the content, these experts can help members solve their problems using expert experience and knowledge and, in some sites, one-on-one coaching. Through the site, the member gets access to someone they otherwise wouldn’t.
Finally, people join membership sites in order to build long-lasting connections. On the site, they can connect to others who face the same struggles or issues as they do. They can share ideas on how to overcome these problems. They can also network and create new business partnerships. At the very least, they have someone to talk to who is in a similar situation to them.
Membership sites are becoming more popular than ever. If you’re thinking about starting your own membership site, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to consider why people join them.
Key #2: Choose an Effective Topic
One of the first major decisions about creating a membership site is to choose your topic. Your topic determines whether people will sign up, so the decision shouldn’t be made lightly.
The best way to choose a topic is to brainstorm and come up with a short list of ideas. Then, narrow your list down to the best one.
Think about your knowledge and experience. What is something you regularly help people with? What is a topic you know well that most people don’t? How can you help your members solve their problems? Go over your knowledge and expertise and get a few ideas.
Next, take a look at your audience. What are their needs? What problems do they need help with? You’re creating the site for them, so it should be designed to meet their needs and interests. Conduct some market research and see what people most need.
Consider your goals for launching the site. What do you hope to achieve and what’s the best topic that will help you do this?
Finally, look at the competition. See what membership sites are already out there in your industry. Try to fill in a gap, offering a site on a topic that no one else is tackling; or, find a topic someone else is covering that you could do better.
Key #3: Create Compelling Content
Whatever type of membership site you create, you’ll need to fill it with content. There are all kinds of different content formats you can offer depending on your topic, the needs of your market, and what you’re trying to achieve.
Articles. You can offer text articles, just like the blog posts and articles you share on the web.
eBooks or Reports. Your site can offer larger pieces of content such as eBooks and reports based around a specific topic.
Templates. If your site is geared toward a topic where people might need templates, offer these exclusively on your site.
Courses. Depending on what you’re teaching, you could offer courses on your site that only your members can take.
Multimedia. You can put videos or audio on your membership site if that’s the way your market prefers to take in information.
Resources. A very valuable way to help your market is to create a membership site with an array of resources they can use.
Swipe Files. Swipe files are real-life examples your members can use; for example, you can provide real ads for people who are learning copywriting.
Interviews. Give your members access to exclusive interviews with experts in your niche.
Webinars. Run free webinars for your site members.
For best results, offer a variety of different content formats to accommodate different styles of learning and content consumption.
Key #4: Use a Proven Membership Site Model
Membership sites come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are membership sites for every niche or topic, but there are also different models. If you’re thinking about creating a membership site, one of the key decisions you need to make at the beginning of the planning process is what model or combination of models you’ll use.
The Drip-Feed Model
This model is called the drip-feed model because the content is served to members gradually. They join the site and then receive a set amount of content on a regular basis. The content might be the latest news in your industry, or it could be a course that sends out the next lesson weekly. The member pays a recurring monthly fee and they receive content until their payments stop.
This model is good for topics where there’s up-to-the-minute news people want. A major advantage of this type of site is that it keeps people tuned in. Your members have a good reason not to cancel their membership as long as they’re getting fresh content regularly.
Buffet or All-in Membership
This is a very simple model where the member signs up and then has access to a wealth of content and resources. While content may be regularly added or updated, it’s not drip-fed. It’s all there and categorized for members to come and find. They can either pay once and receive a lifetime membership, or pay at recurring intervals.
This is the ideal model for a site where there’s a wealth of information and people have different needs. They can go to the site, choose the category of information they need, and find it. It’s also good for sites where you offer resources such as templates and swipe files that people can access any time.
Fixed-Term Membership Sites
A fixed-term site gives the member access for a determined length of time and they know this when they sign up. For example, it might be a three-week membership. During those three weeks, they have access to all the site has to offer. Of course, the member can renew their membership or sign up again if they want to use the site for longer.
This is a common model for courses, since the course has a fixed period of time. In effect, they’re signing up for a course. Some other sites where there’s one task the members are trying to achieve use this model, such as a language exchange website where people come to look for speaking partners.
Hybrid Membership Site
Many membership sites employ a hybrid model that combines drip-feed, all-in, and/or fixed term. You might have a site that has a content archive and also sends a weekly newsletter with news and tips. You could have a fixed-term option for members who only need the site for a limited time.
Think about the topic and type of content you’re offering to decide which model is right for your site. Even more importantly, find out what your audience prefers and how they like to consume their content. Give them the content they need in the way they prefer.
Key #5: Build Relationships with Your Members
The success of your membership site depends on how strong your relationship is with your members. The keys to building good relationships are:
- Making it a personal experience. Personally welcome each new member and interact with them naturally. Get to know them on an individual level.
- Making it a customized experience. For each new member, find out exactly what they need from you and point them in that direction. Make them feel that the site exists for them.
- Offer great content. Fill your membership site with high-quality content and keep adding more. Give your members a reason to use the site well and often.
- Build a community. Build as much engagement and interactivity into your site as possible. Get people talking to each other on the forum or online community.
- Offer something they can’t get anywhere else. The more unique value you can give your site, the more responsive your members will be. Run webinars, introduce niche experts and offer free giveaways from time to time to give your members value.
The success of your membership site depends on your relationships with your members. The keys to building good relationships are: Make it a personal experience, build a community, and offer something they can’t get anywhere else.
Key #6: Make Engagement a Top Priority
Engagement is an industry buzzword that’s very hot right now. However, it can mean different things to different people. For example, in social media, it means clicks, likes, shares, and comments. But what we’re talking about in the context of a membership site is something more personal and organic.
For a membership site, engagement means your members are involved and committed. It means your site is part of their life. They’re not just scrolling through content and passively taking it in. They’re using the content on your site, taking action, and interacting with others.
Why Engagement Is Important
There are a number of reasons engagement is so important. First of all, an engaged membership is involved and committed. This means they’re receptive and they listen to what you say.
Picture someone who isn’t engaged. For that person who only occasionally checks the site to see what’s new and skim through content, they aren’t taking what you say seriously. On the other hand, if your users are checking in each day to see what new content or replies they have, you’re a part of their everyday life. You’re like a trusted friend to them.
Engagement is how you build relationships, and this is the whole point of membership sites. If you have a solid relationship with each individual member of your site, you’ll have more influence over them. This is really the biggest benefit of running a membership site. It gives you a deeply personal connection to members of your market.
Finally, engaged members get much more out of your site. When someone is engaged and taking action, working toward a goal, and getting the full value out of what you offer, they’ll see results. When a user sees results, they’ll realize the unique value you offer, keep using the site, and tell others about it.
How to Create Engagement
There are many techniques you can employ to create engagement. You can welcome each new member with a personalized message and a “start here” suggestion for them. If your customer service and content are spot-on, this will help. Giving plenty of opportunities to engage, such as an interactive forum or free webinars, will create engaged members.
If there’s one simple, key ingredient to engagement, it is to listen to your users and deliver what they want from you. Your members signed up for your site because they were expecting the unique value you promised on your marketing materials. If you’re providing this and meeting their expectations, they will use the site and stick around.
Your membership site will give you a great deal of opportunities to learn about your market. If your members are engaged, it creates a kind of feedback loop. Your members use the site, you interact with them, you learn more about them and make improvements, and then they use the site more. This is the goal, and it will keep your membership site successful for a long time.
Key #7: Use Social Proof for Your Membership Sales Page
Social proof is an essential element of a sales page, whether it’s for your membership site or another product or service. It’s powerful because it’s not a message from you touting the benefits of your own site, but someone else singing your praises. Visitors to your sales page are hearing from people who have used your site, gotten results, and want to tell others. It shows that your site is worth taking a chance on, and it removes the risks in their minds.
There are four types of social proof that are commonly used on membership site sales pages.
Reviews and Testimonials
Get members of your site to leave a quick review or testimonial. Ask them to tell others why they’re a member and how your site has helped them. Try to get some specifics on how they’ve gotten results by being a member.
If possible, include a smiling picture of the person leaving the review. It also helps to have a link to their website and their real name. This is important because it shows that the reviews are left by real people.
Industry Certificates and Awards
If you have any industry certifications or awards, these should go here. They show that you’re legitimate. One of the main aims of social proof is to remove the reservations in people’s minds. Official certifications are proof that there’s no reason to doubt you. Make sure any awards you show are relevant and legitimate. It’s better to have nothing than something that looks strange and out of place.
What if you don’t have any certificates or awards? It might be worth it to invest some time into getting some. There are many simple accreditations you can get online with little cost and effort.
Logos of Brands or Companies You Have Worked For
Have you done any work for well-known brands or companies? If so, you should include this as social proof on your sales page. Bigger names are better than smaller ones, but the key here is relevance. These should be brands or companies related to what your membership site offers.
If you’re thinking about using a client’s name or logo, make sure you check with them first. In fact, this is a good chance to ask them for a testimonial or blurb that you can put on your sales page too.
Case Studies and Success Stories
Case studies work as powerful social proof because they offer detailed stories of specific results you’ve helped people achieve. They take a bit of work to put together and write, but they can be very useful. By sharing the results, you’re showing potential members what they can expect from membership.
Gathering social proof to use on your membership site sales page and elsewhere should be a regular part of your business operations. You should always be on the lookout for content you can use. Regularly ask your customers for reviews, testimonials, or case studies. It’s best to regularly update your sales page with new pieces of social proof from time to time.
Key #8: Avoid Common Membership Site Mistakes
There are many moving parts involved in setting up and running a membership site. The best possible situation is to have everything ready and under control before you launch and start signing up new members. To make the process run more smoothly, here are three major mistakes to avoid.
Mistake #1: The Wrong Model for Your Customers
There are a number of different types of membership sites. There are sites that offer a wealth of resources and content, those that offer the latest news, ones that are community-based, and so on. If you choose the wrong membership model for your audience, you’ll have a hard time getting people to sign up and use the site.
What does your audience want to do on a site like yours? Do they want up-to-the minute industry news and information? If so, you should create a membership site that drip-feeds them content.
Does your audience want a community where they can share their experiences, pick the brains of others, and network? In this case, your site’s main course should be a forum where your members can connect with like-minded people. It shouldn’t be an archive of content.
Get to know your audience well and understand their needs. If you know what they need from your website, you can figure out how to give it to them.
Mistake #2: Flying Blind without a Content Plan
You can crank up your marketing and create a membership site your audience can’t refuse. You can get them to sign up, but what happens if they don’t find what they’re looking for there? If the content doesn’t meet their needs, they’ll cancel just as quickly as they joined.
The strength of the content you provide through your membership site will determine whether people sign up and stay or not. Membership sites vary a great deal in the type of content they offer, but you need to have a solid content plan that matches the needs of your members.
The strength of the content you provide through your membership site will determine whether people sign up and stay or not. If the content doesn’t meet their needs, they’ll cancel just as quickly as they joined.
Research your market to discover what information they need to solve their problems, and how they’d like to receive that information. A membership site could offer text-based content like articles and case studies; it could have videos or video courses; or the content could be resources or templates your members can use. Even if the focus of your site is a community forum, you’ll still need a plan for providing content.
Mistake #3: Forgetting to Automate
There are all kinds of things you can automate for your membership site. If you don’t take advantage of automation, you’ll find yourself working much harder to maintain the site, handling tasks that could easily be taken out of your hands by a software program.
You can automate:
- The entire sign-up process
- New member onboarding
- Switching membership types
- Drip-feeding content
- Purchases made through the site
- Member renewal reminders
- Simple email communications
All of this can be managed with a simple dashboard program, and this frees you up to take care of the more important tasks, like communicating personally with your members and creating content.
The key to a successful membership site is proper planning. Make sure you have everything covered for the long-term before you start seeing sign-ups.
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