Five things to consider before launching a membership site

Person looking at website on laptop
(Image credit: Pexels)

For the last couple of years, membership sites have been a growing trend in the world of WordPress and beyond. Whether it’s inspiring individuals searching for a creative outlet that will also serve as a source of recurring revenue, a small startup with big dreams, or established businesses looking to branch out, launching a membership site is a superb way to put a price tag on your content.

If you recognize yourself in any of these cases, you may be weighing the pros and cons of owning such a site and wondering if that might be the right thing for you. There is a lot to love about owning a membership site, starting with the fact that you’ll be your own boss i.e. you’ll be the one in charge of pretty much everything about your online project. And if you possess the knowledge you want to share with others, with a membership site you can showcase your set of skills, create online courses, and become a well-known expert in your field.

If you’re on the lookout for like-minded individuals with whom you wish to brainstorm solutions for all sorts of challenges, then building an online community cycled around your content might be a good choice for you. Even if your objective is something pretty prosaic (yet equally precious) like boosting your budget and finally taking the holiday to Bora Bora you’ve been dreaming about for so long, a membership site might be worth a shot.

However, (there always seems to be a “however”), while all this might look nothing but enticing at first, running a membership site can become a time-consuming, back-breaking, and nerve-wracking experience after a while. So, how in the world can you be sure that a membership site is the right choice for you? Well, one way to stay on the safe side is to check out these five most important things you should consider before launching your membership site (hopefully) for success.

Build Better Membership Sites With Nexcess

Build Better Membership Sites With Nexcess

The fastest and most affordable way to build a membership site on WordPress is with WPQuickStart by Nexcess. Starting at $49/mo, every membership plan includes the Restrict Content Pro plugin — a $349 value. Plus, enjoy the flexibility and ease of the Kadence WP theme.

1. Study your targeted market and find out if there is an actual need for your site

Before you start making plans to win the World Wide Web grand prix, you need to ask yourself if there is a real need for your membership site, and this is the key question you’ll have to consider in advance of making any initial steps. No matter what the answer is, you need to know where you stand so you can adjust your expectations to meet the challenges ahead.

If there is a market, but one that is crowded with membership sites similar to the site you have in mind, then you should put a unique spin on it to make your site stand out in the crowd. It can be pretty much dog-eat-dog out here, and if you don’t offer something (in terms of content, style, or community) that can’t be found anywhere else, you’ll be crushed by the competition before you know it.

To avoid this you’ll have to (you’ve guessed it) study the market through and through, see what’s missing, and identify the steps your site is going to take on its path towards higher uniqueness. The simplest way to do so is by picking out a unique niche, mastering it to near perfection, and creating content that will solve problems for something highly specific. By not going too broad you’ll avoid being overshadowed by the competition while you slowly but steadily unleash your site’s true potential.

On the other hand, if you can’t find the market for the membership site you wish to create, there is no point in breaking your neck for something that is doomed right from the start. Still, it’s not the end of the story. Rather than putting all your focus on a single niche, you can act as a jack-of-all-trades (or some trades, at least) and stretch it out to cover a few (related or unrelated) subjects that are likely to attract an audience. Mind you, this can be a small audience but still the one that has a strong interest in the content you’re offering. After your membership site starts to grow, you’ll get a clear picture of what content works for your site, so you can niche it down and tweak it to perfection.

Business Continuity Plan

(Image credit: Alvaro Reyes / Unsplash)

2. Plan everything, prepare for anything

One of the main reasons why some membership sites fall flat, while others succeed, is poor planning. There is still a misconception that you can simply write a couple of good articles or record a handful of videos, put them on your site, gate them behind a login, and consider your work has been completed. However, membership sites simply don’t work like that. The only way you’re going to succeed in this business is to strategically plan every step of the journey like a pro. And when something goes wrong (because it will) don’t lose heart but carry on like a champ while using every opportunity to learn your lessons and search for solutions.

Also, remember to prepare plenty of content before you launch your site, and while doing so think in terms of quality rather than quantity. Although you don’t want your potential members to find your site short on content, you don’t want to overwhelm them either. The content is usually best served chopped into smaller chunks over a steady schedule, so your members can get an idea of what they’ll receive and when they’ll receive it. You should also keep in mind that in the first month after the launch you’ll probably be as busy as a bee and won’t have much spare time to come up with new content. This is yet another reason to plan everything ahead.

However, before getting your creative juices flowing, you also need to know whether you will be using a paid model, an unpaid model, or the best of both worlds (that is, a mixed model). How many membership levels are you going to include and how are you going to name them (and please come up with something a bit more creative than “bronze”, “silver”, and “gold”)? What subscription models are you going to use (perhaps you’ll offer a monthly and an annual plan) and how are you going to award (because, yes, you will want this) those who are willing to stick around for a year or more? And what about special offers for early birds, freebies for everyone, and other parts of your promotional plan?

All of this (and much more) should be a part of your master plan for getting your membership site off to a successful start.

3. Picking out the right tools might be a preventive cure for tech headaches

By now you probably have a vision of your carefully thought out (and soon to be wildly successful) membership site, but without the right set of tools to help you turn it into reality, it could remain only that - yet another unrealized vision.

If you’re someone who prefers using an all-in-one solution rather than getting your hands dirty or sculpting a custom one from scratch, then a membership site platform might be the right choice for you and your business. These are also a great pick for newcomers and users without much technical know-how in general, but they can get pretty pricey. Some of the most popular membership platforms in the market include Teachable (great for online courses), Patreon (good for all kinds of content creators), and Kajabi (like Teachable but with a free plan as well). Platforms like these can also be a time-saver since you won’t have to worry yourself with technical things like hosting, performance, site building tools, security features, marketing tools, and so on.

However, if you already own a professional-looking website you want to boost with a membership feature, then a membership website builder might be a better option. There is a whole variety of them to choose from (such as Wix, Wild Apricot, and YourMembership) and most of them are geared towards total beginners.

And if you're a do-it-yourself type of person and a fan of WordPress to boot, then one of the WordPress membership plugins might be right up your alley. For years now WordPress has been carrying the title of the world’s most popular content management system (CMS) and it’s currently in charge of over a third (35% as we write) of all the websites on the Internet. It is free, open-source software backed by a colorful community of contributors from all parts of the world, so it’s no surprise so many consider it suitable for a membership site.

With a WordPress membership plugin (like MemberPress, LearnDash, and S2Member) you can turn your site into a membership site simply, swiftly, and without any advanced tech skills. To tell the truth, WordPress might require a bit more technical expertise than a ready-made platform or beginner-friendly membership builder, but we are sure someone from its massive community will be there to lend you a helping hand if you happen to need it.

Woman Using Laptop on Couch

(Image credit: Pexels)

4. It is more time-consuming than you might think

Unless you have a dedicated crew that’s going to set up your membership site, continuously work on backend technical elements, and have enough time to create content for your online community, you’ll have to be fully focused on this project, body and soul. In the bursts of enthusiasm, most of us tend to play down the amount of work it takes to start a site and then keep it running on the right track. As you build the backend of your site, you might come up with new ideas, hit a wall, and be forced to find another way, or end up with analysis paralysis over something comically simple.

So, what’s the solution? Take all the time you can to make sure everything goes according to the plan, and when it doesn’t, breathe in deeply - breathe out slowly, and start making new plans. The chances that you’re going to get everything exactly as you imagined are pretty slim, in any case.

Now let’s go into the fictional near future and imagine that your site has had a successful start and made more than a handful of members along the way. This is where one could fall into the trap of thinking that their main quest is now completed and all that’s left to do is to keep the new members coming in and the content coming out. 

Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complex than that. Statistics show that it’s harder to keep the old members than to catch new ones since the buzz they get out of joining your site will fall flat after a while. One way to avoid this is to show up every day, tune into the needs of your subscribers, and come up with fresh content that will make them want to stick around. There’s no rest for the membership site owners. 

5. Running a membership site is rewarding work

Although owning a membership site can go from exciting to exhausting without a warning, we mustn’t overlook the fact that it can also be rather rewarding work, more so if you’ve found a calling you sincerely care about. Like any other business, a membership site can’t live on love alone. However, if it is your passion project, it will show in your work, even if your only motivation is making money.

This is because a membership site doesn’t function as a one-time investment, a source of passive income, or something you can set in motion and show up every now and then to reap the fruits of your past labor. On the contrary, it’s a long-term commitment, a source of recurring revenue, and a never-ending quest of creating, preserving, and expanding a tight community that trusts you enough to put their money into your pocket.

Turning your passion into profit can feel rewarding, but so can the thought that you are truly trusted by others thinking, feeling, and criticizing human beings that are miles apart in the physical world but ultimately united in a small universe you’ve created somewhere in cyberspace. As long as you don’t betray the trust of your community members, they will continue to support your membership site the best way they can and that is: by paying money to enjoy your content, stimulating you to keep up the good work, and by spreading the word about your site for good measure.

We've also featured the best web hosting, best website builder and best payment gateways

Mirza Bahic is a freelance tech journalist and blogger from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the past four years, Mirza has been ghostwriting for a number of tech start-ups from various industries, including cloud, retail and B2B technology.