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From Amazon to Netflix to Dollar Shave Club, and everything in between, businesses are realizing the immense potential of a recurring revenue model.
And, the best way for you to access that kind of reliable income right now is with a membership site.
You can set up a site for members effortlessly nowadays with the right management platform. But that doesn’t mean it will be successful.
We studied hundreds of membership sites to figure out what makes them tick, and what makes some more successful than others.
In this article, we’re sharing what we learned so you can create a membership site of your own, and start growing a community for your members.
Find a Niche For Your Membership Site
Whether you skipped ahead or read this far, you’re probably itching to start building your very own membership site.
And the first step to ensure success is to choose the right area of expertise.
There’s a case to be made that any type of membership site can be successful if it’s good enough.
But that’s a little too optimistic in our opinion.
There is more than enough content out there that can help you decide on a home for your site. In fact, you could probably get away with making a membership site dedicated to helping people find profitable niches.
Here’s our take:
Start with a broad niche and then drill down to smaller solutions you can solve.
One of those small solutions is likely to be the right mix of low competition and high earning potential.
As you get access to a wider audience, you can start expanding in the same niche.
For instance, within the weight loss niche, you might have success creating a subscription-based website for women who want to lose weight postpartum.
Explore Your Passions And Areas of Expertise
It’s a lot more realistic to start working in a space that many people have a lot of interest in.
And that means you’re pretty much all set if you’re an expert in any of these areas:
- Personal finance
- Health and fitness
- Dating and relationships
Need some inspiration? Here are 90+ membership website ideas that can get you started.
The problem of working in a saturated niche is that the best website ideas are probably already taken.
There’s always room for a new and interesting take on something, even in popular industries with a lot of content.
Yet, even then, you’ll have to compete with some big-name competitors to get eyes on your content.
So, it may be worth digging into some of your passions and areas of expertise that aren’t as well-trodden.
One of our favorite examples is Neiru.
Rather than focus on manicures in general, or even nail art as a broad topic, Neiru’s creators made a website for people interested specifically in Japanese nail art.
A wildly successful membership site that’s a leader in that highly specialized niche.
The takeaway here is that your areas of expertise probably have an associated niche that you can capitalize on. Even if they’re too competitive as a whole.
Have a Clear Vision
We often have to warn people about being vague with their value proposition.
And that’s because people want to know what they’re getting from a paid membership.
Put another way, anyone who visits your membership site should know what they’ll get when they sign up within five seconds.
That’s right: five seconds.
Perhaps even more importantly, do not promise what you cannot deliver and make sure your are unique.
If you’ve never flown airplanes before, you can’t teach people to fly them no matter how much theoretical knowledge you have.
BUT, you can find someone who has flown airplanes and let them teach it for a portion of the profits.
There’s always a way as long as you have a clear vision for your website and deliver on your promise.
After you’ve found a niche and are satisfied that you want to build a site around it, we recommend validating your membership site idea before moving on.
It's a good idea to look at what's on the market and what you can provide to make a unique value proposition to make your
Plan Out Your Membership Model
Unless you’re creating a website out of sheer love of your topic, you’ll need to decide how to monetize it.
And that means choosing the right monetization model for your type of membership site.
In this section, we’ll present you with several profit models.
Most sites will fall into some combination of these categories but they’re not the only ones available.
When you choose a membership model, keep in mind that most membership sites offer at least these two things:
- A private community for members; and
- Exclusive resources members get access to.
You don’t absolutely need those two to be successful, but it will make your job easier if you do.
Here are your options.
1. The Continual Membership Model
This is what most people think of when you talk about a subscription-based website.
Members in this scenario pay on an ongoing basis for access to content that’s regularly updated.
Pros: You get to develop long-term, often highly profitable, relationships with your customers.
Cons: You need to consistently release new content to make the membership worth it.
Andrew Warner’s Mixergy is a perfect example of the continual membership model. Want to know how we managed to build a membership community from scratch? Find out here.
2. The All-In-One Subscription
Also called a content library mode, this one gives subscribers access to an information database for as long as the subscription lasts.
Pros: You don’t need to worry about churning out content all the time.
Cons: The content library needs to be extremely comprehensive, authoritative, and trustworthy.
The coaching model is a lot like being a consultant.
It involves a monthly subscription price for members to get access to coaching resources.
Pros: You can easily scale this model by offering group coaching opportunities instead of one-on-one sessions.
Cons: Each coach that’s part of your membership site will need to have their own track record and qualifications.
4. Product Bundles
Selling digital content is highly profitable. But you could get to the point at which you have enough content to sell product bundles.
This model is especially good for products like templates and spreadsheets. Membership in this model grants access to evolving products over time.
Pros: You can strategically bundle your products to prop up your laggards with some best-sellers.
Moreover, you don’t have to scramble to find new members all the time with this model, since member churn is not as big of an issue.
Cons: You’ll have to convince your members to buy into your bundles instead of individual products.
This model also doesn’t quite work for every type of content.
5. Community Model
Sometimes, just monetizing your exclusive community is enough.
Pros: All you need is a community of like-minded people who can be useful to another.
Cons: You’ll need to work hard to demonstrate how much value the community brings to its members.
AdLeaks acts as a digital marketing expert hub to exchange ideas, discuss new trends and strategies, and solve problems
AdLeaks offers more than just a community, but the community aspect is what keeps people coming back.
6. Hybrid Models
A huge number of membership sites combine two or more of these models.
If you have several of the elements we mentioned above, there’s a good chance a hybrid model would work better than trying to put them all under one umbrella.
Once you’re done working out how to monetize your membership site, you have a basis for choosing a price.
Parker Walbeck’s Fulltime Filmmaker is a combination of community, filmmaker courses, and valuable content. Read more about it here.
Choose a Price Point
Membership price tends to be the biggest sticking point for people just getting started.
There are many factors to consider in a paid membership, and it’s fair to say that pricing can make or break a membership site’s chances of success.
You don’t want to scare people away, but you also don’t want to give your content away with a free membership.
To be fair, sometimes it makes sense to give out free content.
But we’ll get to that.
So, is there a reliable way to pick a price?
It starts with asking yourself how much you’re ready to invest.
How Much Does it Cost You?
Think of your membership site as an investment.
You should aim to generate a return from every investment you make. And a membership website is no different.
So, work out how much it’s going to cost you to set up and maintain your website.
Some key expenses you should consider:
- Hosting expenses
- Membership software
- Payment processing
And that’s just overhead.
To that, you’ll have to add the expenses of creating your content. Which can add up pretty quickly.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to come up with the cost of your investment this way.
That will give you a target number, to which you’ll add your desired profit margin.
And that’s what you’re going to try to work up to with time.
Set a Goal And Use Pricing To Achieve It
If you’re planning on generating an indirect return on your investment, pricing can get a little more complicated.
Overall, you’ll always want to consider your goal and price accordingly.
If your goal is to expand your reach as a creator and generate the largest possible membership base, it makes sense to price your membership on the low side.
In fact, there’s a case to be made that you should offer memberships for that end for free. Especially if a free membership isn’t going to have the most robust value proposition.
Alternatively, you might want your membership site to serve as a top-of-the-funnel device to upsell members.
After all, you’re much more likely to make a sale to an existing member than you are to a new prospect.
And your services are probably a much higher net-worth sale than memberships. In that case, try to price the membership proportionately to your upsell.
For instance, a good starting place might be to set the membership site pricing to about 30% of your upsell price.
If you price too high, your prospects might not be able to allocate a budget for your upsell. If you price too low, the upsell might seem like too big of a gap to bridge for them.
Both are equally removed from your likely goal:
To earn recurring income and turn a profit from your membership sites.
If that’s the case, here are some tips to consider for your pricing strategy.
Set a Price That People Will Take Seriously
How you price your online business will have a substantial impact on how people perceive it.
If you price your membership too low, you’ll have trouble convincing people of its value.
Conversely, even if you succeed in attracting paying members, they won’t have enough of an incentive to engage with your content if the price is low.
It’s the same scenario that leads to Planet Fitness’s astronomical membership numbers while so few actually frequent a gym.
A simple way to test for this is to ask how much you are willing to pay for the subscription if you had the same problem as your target audience.
Using Pricing Tiers
A simple way to avoid locking yourself into the wrong pricing strategy is to use tiered pricing.
If you buy into the idea that there’s a perfect price for every buyer, the more price points you have, the more perfect price points buyers will find.
Of course, adding price tiers to your membership quickly becomes untenable. So you have to try to strike a balance.
Unless you can make clear distinctions between a large number of membership levels, three tiers is the preferred number.
That way, new members can start with an introductory price tier if they’re unsure and then move up to a higher tier once you’ve demonstrated value.
Want to know more? Read our article on course pricing.
Plan Out Your Marketing Model
At this point, you’ve picked your niche, and you know how much you’ll charge for the course.
It may make sense to jump into creating a minimum viable product and test your idea.
However, there’s one more step we firmly believe separates successful membership sites from failed ones more often than not.
And that’s creating a marketing plan for your content.
If you already have a game plan for how to promote your membership before you start, you’ll be way ahead of most competitors.
And here are the top three priorities you should focus on.
Leverage Your Current Audience
If you have any kind of following, whether that’s on social media, a forum community, or anything else, use it.
As the saying goes:
Your network is your net worth.
The place where you’re most likely to find people to sign up for your membership sites is where people already know you. So, do some research and decide what the best way is to leverage your current network.
Existing members of those communities can be the foundation of your membership site.
Many communities, such as ones on Reddit, have strict guidelines about what types of promotional activity is and isn’t allowed.
Work within the rules of your chosen community and decide on the best way to deliver value
You’ve got to spend money to make money.
Paid advertising is essentially a surefire way to get members. And it’s scalable, and there are plenty of excellent agencies that can do it for you.
The one tiny drawback is that it will cut directly into your profits.
To make the ads worth the money you spend on them, you’ll need a solid target, retargeting, and spending strategy.
Content Marketing (SEO)
If you have more time to build your membership site than you do money to spend on it, content marketing can be an equally effective option.
You can market your membership through educational blog content, newsletters, podcasts, and other media. The free content you provide should serve to convince people your premium content is worth it.
The key is to choose ways that will provide value to your target audience.
That will help build trust and establish you as an authority in that space.
And remember, the more people trust you, the easier it will be to convince them you’ve got a membership worth their money.
Pick a Membership Site Software
You’ve finally made it to the big moment—creating your membership site.
And to do that, we highly recommend using a membership website builder.
There’s nothing stopping you from using a general-purpose site builder. But you’ll save a ton of money and time by picking software that’s tailor-made for creating membership sites.
It should come as no surprise that we highly recommend using Hyax to create your site.
And it’s super-easy to use:
Ultimately, the best membership site builder for you depends on your goals. But here are the features you need to look for regardless of the builder you choose.
Every offline or online business needs revenue, and if you can’t charge for your membership, you may as well start a blog.
Ideally, your membership software should also include ways to receive donations and collect other fees from paying members seamlessly.
Membership site owners are starting to diversify into various forms of payment models, so try to pick software that’s going to support you in the long run.
Plenty of Automation
The less you have to do manually, the better.
To illustrate the point, imagine having to grant access to each member manually. You’d never be able to scale.
That same principle applies to things like member communication, newsletters, invoicing, etc.
The more automation your membership site has, the better.
Lots of Content Features
As a general rule, you should look for a site builder that has more options than you need.
Things such as member directories, event calendars, blog posts, exclusive content areas, all add value to your site. Make sure your chosen software provides ways to create those easily.
💡 Remember: Restricting access to content is how you generate revenue from membership sites. Use software that makes it easy to do that!
Software That Gives You Access To Data
Don’t underestimate how important it is to monitor your membership site’s overall performance.
At any point, you should have access to financial reports, membership numbers, and other analytics.
Otherwise, you won’t be able to make informed decisions about what the next steps are to maintain growth.
What To Include In A Membership Site
No matter what kind of site it is, or how it’s monetized, all good membership sites share a few common features.
Each of these deserves more attention than it’s going to get, but here’s an overview of the essentials.
The first thing visitors to your site should see when they land on your membership site is what your value proposition is.
There should be no hesitation or confusion about what you offer and for whom.
Here’s one of our favorite examples from The Knitting Guild Association.
The site immediately answers the most important questions visitors have:
- Who is it for? People who love to knit.
- What does it offer? Seasoned experts who help you learn and masters knitting.
If we had one note, it would be to convey the value proposition in the bottom paragraph with even fewer words.
Simplicity works best on landing pages.
You don’t want anyone digging too deeply to find your premium content.
Make it easy for members to get access to what they paid for.
A good guideline when you create a membership site is to have content sections no more than a single click away from your landing page.
Here’s one of our favorite examples of a membership site that does this right:
Ali Abdaal’s site is as simple as it gets, and even divides the content into separate sections to make it easier to navigate.
You can read more about Ali Abdaal’s journey and how he turned his passion into a thriving and profitable community.
In content sections, you can also speak to existing members about why it might be a good idea to move up to a higher content tier. Or, make them feel like they made the right choice becoming and staying a member.
Application Section (membership information, pricing, benefits)
Make it easy to sign up for your membership.
We’ve seen countless examples of membership sites that try too hard to explain benefits before asking people to sign up.
We don’t recommend this strategy.
If you’ve done your job right on the marketing end, there shouldn’t be too much more to say before letting people decide to join.
💡 Remember: simplicity is almost always the best approach. It shouldn’t take more than a few clicks to join the community.
There should be a section for people who are interested but weren’t sold by the opening value proposition.
Here’s another example of a membership site we loved:
Succulents and Sunshine is a site for people who want to learn more about taking care of succulents.
And its owner, Cassidy Tuttle, uses the About Us section to tell members about the site, her experience, and further explain its benefits.
Regardless of what you choose to name it, the “About Us” section should be loaded with information to make people trust you.
In this section, you’re not trying to focus too much on the hard sell. Rather, go over your credentials, mission statement, and specific outcomes for your members.
Why Start a Membership Site
Still on the fence about starting a membership site?
You’re not alone. It’s worth it to explore a bit before committing the time and energy required to build a membership site.
And, we’re happy to share a few of the reasons why we think it’s an excellent decision.
Membership Sites As A Recurring Source Of Income
We already touched on this in the introduction, but it’s worth coming back to.
The most compelling reason to build a membership site is the potential of creating a steady source of income from members who join.
It’s certainly not the only reason. But if you’re like most people starting a membership site, you’re not doing it purely as a hobby.
Passive income is always going to beat out one-time sales in the long run.
👀 Look at it this way:
If you’re selling magazines, you have to demonstrate each issue’s value to customers before they buy. That means marketing each issue individually.
If you sell a magazine subscription, you only need to attract a customer once, and you’ve got a recurring revenue stream for the duration.
It’s an age-old concept and you can tap into it easily with the right membership management platform.
Leverage Your Current Following and Expand It
If you’re thinking about creating a membership site, there’s a decent chance that you already have some members in mind.
And, in fact, most of the people we’ve seen build successful membership sites do so to monetize an already existing following.
In other words, if your tribe is already starting to form, a membership site is an excellent way to give a home to that growth.
And here’s the beauty of it:
Your followers already want a membership site.
Even if they don’t know it yet.
A membership site is not just a way to gate access to existing content. It’s also a place for your tribe to gather. We’ll get back to this concept of a home for your community further down.
Boost Your Reputation as an Expert In The Space
You’re good at what you do.
Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be starting a membership site.
We’re also going to take a wild guess that you like what you do if you want to expand your presence in that space.
A successful membership site immediately establishes you as an authority in your chosen space.
Just think about anyone who has built a successful community of members around what they love. You almost certainly perceive that person as an expert, precisely because so many people support them.
In a way, building a profitable subscription website for your community is the most effective way to leverage social proof. Every person who becomes a member is a testimonial that you’re doing something right.
Wanna be perceived as an expert? Give your audience a chance to see you that way with a membership site.
It’s that simple.
Bonus: Using content to grow your audience online with Justin Walter
Justin Walter is a TV Host that has worked for massive media brands like Discovery, BeondTV, Shark Week, and more. He's also an expert travel content creator that uses content to build audiences for brands online.
We recently spoke to Justin who showed us how to increase social engagement, create excellent content, and build a community online. Watch the full interview below:
Closing Thoughts on Creating Membership Sites
If you’ve read this far, you have more than enough information to get started.
Not only is now a great time to start a membership site, but all indications show that it will increasingly become the most profitable way to monetize content.
The basic steps we want you to walk away with are these:
If you need help with any of these steps, we’d be happy to help.
Let us know in the comments, or book a strategy call right now.
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What is Hyax?
Hyax allows creators to monetize their content, whether its through courses, digital downloads, or memberships. Create your storefront with Hyax today, and start making more money as a creator.
Also, check out our other product Hy.page which allows you to monetize your social bio links with ease.
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