Step-by-step guide on how to create a successful membership site. Unlock secrets to engaging content, robust features, and strategies to grow your community.
By Joanna Taylor • Updated 17 October 2023
Setting up a membership site is one of the most effective ways for content creators to monetize their knowledge or service and generate recurring revenue.
It offers tangible, ongoing value to the site owner and its members. The content creator gets a reliable source of passive income, while the users get exclusive access to the knowledge and time of an expert.
Of course, the content or service you are offering must be something people are willing to pay for. Also, your membership site platform must give you the tools to create online spaces where people can comfortably learn and interact with each other.
In this article, we will show you how to create a successful membership site in 2023 and the types of membership models you can adopt for your channel.
A membership website is a gated site that offers exclusive access to content, services, tools, or events to people who have met the specified membership requirements.
Restricted access is the core concept behind membership sites. Only people who have opened an account (and paid a subscription fee when required) successfully become members.
The idea is to create a place where people can enjoy interacting with each other. That can only work if you put like-minded individuals together, which explains the need to only accept community members with genuine interest in the channel's goals.
Subscriptions to a membership site can be free or paid. It’s often businesses and nonprofits that set up free membership sites as a platform to add more value to their target audience and build a community around their brand.
In contrast, private individuals tend to set up paid sites. You can set one up if you have valuable content (online courses, podcasts, articles, etc.) that can convince people to open their wallets.
Your membership site can create other advantages other than revenue generation. Here are some other potential benefits:
Each membership site has a driving purpose, and there is a membership model suitable for each goal.
Some models are even versatile enough to achieve multiple goals. Below, you will discover the best membership model for your plans.
This model involves offering pre-recorded online courses and other educational materials to members interested in learning new skills and expanding their knowledge.
You will have to put in the effort and time to create courses that offer actionable value to paying members. Constant updates may also be required, depending on the topic.
The Bulletproof Magician is a membership site by Noa Kageyama where musicians can learn how to perform without nerves on stage.
It is an excellent example of a course-based membership site. Learning is self-paced, and there is an active community where people can share their experiences.
This is a model with lots of lucrative potential based on offering subscribers personalized services like coaching and consultations.
It can be a major source of recurring revenue because a one-time payment model won’t work for such a service.
The membership model demands a lot of time commitment, and that's something to consider.
A good example is The Marketing Fix membership site run by Melissa Love, where she hosts five hours of weekly training sessions teaching small business owners how to build marketing funnels.
This model involves creating a virtual community for people with similar interests that will serve as a safe space to connect and share information.
You can only succeed with this model if you can encourage high levels of engagement among members. Features like discussion forums, messaging systems, member profiles, and active moderation tools will facilitate this.
Peak Freelance is an example of a community-based membership site. It is a place where gig workers can connect, share job opportunities, and learn new skills.
The platform also includes a job board freelancers can use to find clients and make more money.
This type of site is all about selling access to a digital product. Your product must be something people can’t get elsewhere, or it should at least be different from other alternatives.
Creating such a platform requires specialized skills, and the product must be constantly updated if it’s to remain relevant.
Scribd is an excellent example of such a membership site. Members pay to access an online library of books, audiobooks, sheet music, magazines, and documents.
The platform is constantly updated and holds hundreds of thousands of books and more than one million audiobooks.
This model combines the characteristics of two or more types of membership sites.
A hybrid approach may be your only choice if none of the other models are suitable for the scope of your vision for your membership site.
It's all about using the best combination of membership models that lets you package your content, services, and products to best suit your members.
A good example is The Uncaged Life membership site by Becca Tracey, where she offers multiple online courses, mentorship, and a separate live coaching program to aspiring solopreneurs.
She combined the online course-based and service-based models to serve her audience effectively.
A successful membership site offers high-quality content while providing an environment that encourages constant communication among members.
You must get that blend right if you want to succeed as a site owner. Below is a seven-step process that will show you what it takes to create a membership site.
The first thing you must do is identify a niche where you can offer a unique solution to a pressing challenge.
This should ideally be in your area of expertise, and many of the most successful membership sites were started by people who choose to create communities around topics dear to them.
The amount of dedicated attention she was getting convinced her to set up a membership site for her audience. She now has millions of followers and one of the most popular Apple podcasts.
Having something unique and beneficial to share with others is only one part of the puzzle, and you must also validate the market demand for your topic.
It’s a very positive sign if other thriving membership sites are already covering a similar topic.
Do some competitor research and check out their websites to learn more about the topics they are addressing in their content.
Also, go through customer reviews to see if current members are enthusiastic about the site.
You must clearly identify your ideal member so you can offer the exact type of content that will meet their needs.
The story of the founders of the Filmmakers Academy membership site shows why user research is so important.
They had initially positioned their website as a masterclass platform where anyone can learn videography.
However, a customer survey soon showed them that most of their members are professionals, not beginners, and they would prefer content tailored as an online resource for learning additional skills instead of beginner content geared towards hobbyists.
Today, the membership site provides hundreds of training videos and courses to videographers with thousands of members, but they didn't get their target audience right at the beginning.
You should visit online forums and social media groups popular with your target audience to identify topics that resonate with them.
After discovering their challenges and pressing questions, dig further by organizing online surveys.
Get answers to the following questions:
You have picked a topic, validated your membership idea, and created a customer persona for your ideal member. Congrats.
Now, you must decide how you want your target audience to consume the content you are offering.
One way to organize your courses is to drip-release your content. The idea is to make only one portion of the content library available to members at a time by delivering each part at scheduled intervals.
Drip-feeding works best for complex topics that must be mastered in stages. It also benefits the site owner because it compels the member to pay a recurring subscription.
Self-paced learning is the exact opposite. This approach gives members full access to all the content on your platform, and it's up to them to decide how they will consume it.
It’s a popular model used by most membership sites.
You can use a standalone membership platform to host your website or a WordPress-based platform like OptimizeMentor.
Many content creators opt to use standalone membership site platforms, and Kourses is the perfect membership website builder.
It lets users build branded course-based membership sites with a suite of community-building tools that guarantee an engaging experience for your members.
We will use the platform as a point of reference in this section and subsequent sections.
Kourses will provide you with beautiful pre-made templates to set up your site pages. Your membership website should include the following pages as a bare minimum:
There is no best practice for content volume, and the quality of your curriculum is more important than quantity.
Make sure your content is always relevant, and use a content delivery approach that best suits what you are offering.
Kourses lets users create both drip-fed and self-paced programs.
You can also create webinars and online courses with a fixed-term structure - access to the site will open and close during scheduled periods per year.
Kourses lets you create multiple membership levels, including a free trial period.
This ensures people only have to pay for a plan that meets their needs and budget limitations.
The higher-level plans will include more time-consuming offers like coaching, consultations, and access to webinars.
You also need to set up payment options for your members, and Kourses works with Stripe and any checkout solution you are currently using.
Marketing is a less pressing issue for content creators with name recognition and a large social media following.
However, if you are starting from scratch, one effective way to attract members is to entice them with free content.
You don’t have to offer the meat of your content for free. You can create a mini-course that summarizes your curriculum and publish it for free on your website.
It will ideally convince people to pay for the more in-depth tutorial.
Other effective marketing strategies include:
The only way to know if your subscribers are enjoying your content and whether you are fostering a thriving community is to look at the data.
Kourses provides detailed reports and analytics that you can use to make data-driven decisions to improve your membership platform. You can also use Google Analytics.
You should pay attention to key statistics, especially those that track customer engagement and loyalty. The essential stats include:
This article has covered everything you need to create and run a membership site. The information will help you avoid potentially devastating mistakes, and you should also study successful sites in your niche to see what you can do better than them.
Pay attention to branding. Kourses lets you customize your site to match your brand in minutes.
Ensure your logo, brand colors, and other design elements are consistent across all platforms.
Create. Engage. Profit
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