In the early days of the Internet, it was all about making things free and then slapping ugly ads ontop. But as more people get banner blindness and more ad blockers have taken over, advertising supported businesses got hammered.
Even in the YouTube creator space, several creators got demonetized, and CPMs started dropping like crazy.
We're now in the midst of one of the greatest shifts in how we pay for online content.
In 2021, consumers are used to paying for Spotify/Netflix instead of torrenting digital downloads. Journalism has also gone subscription, and the best content is often behind a paywall (think The Athletic). Digital newsletters like The Hustle can make 7-figures just by sending out text content. Even in the porn industry, creators are turning to OnlyFans instead of relying on studios to create content.
Have you ever wondered how to join this movement? Maybe you have skills, but you have no idea how to monetize it. Is it possible to make money doing something you love?
The old ways to profit using banner ads, Amazon Affiliates, and Google Adsense are all but dead, except for the publishers who have hundreds of thousands or even millions of views on their content.
The solution?Membership Sites!
You’ve probably come across one or two in your lifetime offering full-fledged courses and content if you pay a fee (one time or monthly).
It’s recurring revenue. You just create it once and get thousands of people to keep paying to access it!
Sounds easy, right?
Well, not quite. However, we’ve prepared examples of brands and individuals you can copy and make it easier to start.
So let’s take you for a ride that will show you what you’re missing out on.
What exactly is a membership site?
A membership site is all content that you place behind a paywall. It prevents others from accessing the content unless they pay a membership fee.
Most of the time, this is regulated with a subscription fee for those subscribing to become members. This allows them to get exclusive and relevant content first, among various other privileges.
For instance, compare membership sites to a public library.
A library contains thousands of books with tons of relevant information, and you can access all of it by paying a daily/monthly/yearly fee.
It’s the same with websites that contain gated content: once you pay, you get the juice. And believe it or not, people absolutely love paying for value.
In fact, more and more news outlets, blogs, influencers, and businesses are starting to adopt the membership model.
Let’s say you want to read through news reports from the British Telegraph. Earlier, you could’ve accessed all their articles for free. However, now they’re behind a paywall as well. If you want to read breaking news, you need to become a member.
Influencers and bloggers quickly took notice of the success of paywalled content. An excellent example of this is Your Blogging Mastermind—a membership website for bloggers and influencers to learn tricks of the trade.
Another good example of membership publication is Growing for Market. The well-respected magazine for local US food and plant producers introduced a membership plan for exclusive content just recently. Moreover, membership grants access to a digital database of all published articles in the past 20 years.
There you have it - if you have a great idea, plan, and audience, there’s no reason not to start your own membership site.
Who can use membership sites?
The digital landscape is evolving and so do the business models that come with it. People thought that the internet would allow an all-accessible, free transfer of information, but that seems to be changing.
Here’s an example:
In 2016, The Atheltic Media Company gathered renowned sports journalists from various high-end media outlets into a huge global conglomerate- The Athletic.
The website is the go-to place for exclusive, reliable, and in-depth information in the world of sports. All for a $60/year subscription fee.
Now that’s just one of the many examples of putting exclusivity behind a paywall.
In truth, the possibilities of membership websites are almost unlimited. When you look at these types of websites that make money, you’ll notice a plethora of different niches.
From our research for this guide, the ones that do the best are the ones that get creative.
Here are some examples of membership sites:
Artists & Digital Creators
It’s a well-known fact that artists and digital creators often struggle to find a stable income source.
Membership websites can come in quite handy here.
You’ve probably heard about Patreon. This website provides a platform for various artists to showcase and monetize their talent.
Writers, podcasters, musicians, influencers, painters, you name it.
However, Patreon is more of a membership platform than a unique, individual membership site. Thanks to its commission model, it rose its yearly revenue to more than $50+ million by the end of 2019.
Patreon’s success should motivate artists and talented individuals to figure out their membership strategy and make their niche-specific membership websites.
Also, membership websites like dot-art provide support to upcoming artists by granting them access to commissioning opportunities, discounts, training, PR and promotion opportunities, etc.
Coaching & Product Brands
In this modern and hectic age where remote work slowly becomes the norm, we tend to neglect our health.
Thus, fitness and lifestyle coaches and brands are gaining traction in recent years.
Membership websites provide some of the best ways for fitness coaches and brands to monetize their programs.
A notable example here is Lady Boss. You pay a membership fee for a unique fitness regime that promises top-notch results with minimal sacrifice.
The entire program is backed by tons of positive reviews and testimonials and a huge community that you become a part of.
Similarly, there’s Find What it Feels Good. This membership site has 700+ video courses, apps, diet programs that should help you get in top physical and mental shape. Currently, it has 20,000+ members, and the list just keeps growing.
Extremely Niche Brands
Is there something you’re passionate about, but there’s nobody in your immediate environment that can relate?
You may have a hidden love for bonsai trees, enjoy a game of disc golf, or are a passionate aquarist. Where do you exchange ideas/opinions, read new content, access products, important information, and people from this niche?
You’ve guessed it – membership websites.
A lot of aficionados start their membership websites as a mix of providing value and monetizing their passion.
If there’s a niche, there’s probably a membership website dedicated to it. These are some examples of membership sites built on a distinct niche:
International Gem Society – A close-knit community of gem enthusiasts. This membership includes courses, a gem directory, access to premium tools, and everything you need to become a certified geologist.
Orchids Made Easy – Do you know there are tons of people who turn growing orchids into a passionate hobby? Maybe you’re one of them! If you are, you probably know about OME – a place that will teach you how to master this art, connect you with like-minded individuals, and provide you with high-quality products and tools.
Freelance Writers Den – From one writer to thousands of others, this membership website is a must-follow for all that aspire to become top in their writing craft. From courses, boot camps, and a huge community, there’s also a job board that opens the door to premium clients way before your counterparts.
Training Beta – Rock climbing is a serious hobby, and guys from this program know it. That’s why they’ve prepared dozens of courses, training programs, and analytics to help their members get to the top as smoothly as possible.
Courses and Lectures
As you’ve seen, membership websites are one of the best ways to monetize your skills and knowledge. That’s why various lecturers and coaches opt for membership websites to sell their courses.
Like the above section, all these courses and lectures have their niche, but some can be pretty broad – such as politics, religion, web development, etc.
The key here is that you can prepare a course and decide how you want to sell it. Of course, it’s always hidden behind a paywall, but with slight differences.
You could opt to sell your course in a smaller fragment (modular method), but you can sell your entire course upfront.
Top membership websites always include a ton of features besides the course. Access to communities, tools, activities, tests, podcasts, to name a few.
Lynda.com is one of the most famous training membership websites with thousands of courses on various topics.
This website uses a monthly membership program of $25/month that unlocks all of these courses for you to choose from - just like a library! The lectures vary from software to school, or businesses and the main upside is that you have it all sorted in one place.
To make things even more impressive, Lynda partners with massive brands and is often the first to get hands-on important industry courses as well!
Agencies, businesses, governments, and even U.S. military branches reached out to Lynda for help. This just proves how lucrative and essential a course membership website can be.
How Influencers and Personal Brands Make Millions Using Membership Sites
All these examples above lead us to an obvious conclusion. Entrepreneurs, influencers, and personal brands can turn membership websites into a stable source of income.
For instance, micro-influencers often rely on their narrow niche to assemble a loyal membership tribe (you only need 1,000 people paying you $84/m to make a million dollars a year).
Do you think your niche is too narrow? Meet Kyle Weiger.
This guy has a pretty unique passion – handstands!!!!
Over the years, he developed his handstand art so much that others recognized it and started following him. And just like that, Kyle became a micro-influencer.
Relying on his strong foundation, Kyle built a membership website KyleWeiger.com where he would sell training programs, courses, share events and relevant content, along with a bunch of other valuable stuff.
According to Membermouse, Kyle generated $200k+ from membership fees in a year.
By showing people how to do a HANDSTAND.
What’s your excuse?
This is just one of many examples of how influencers and personal brands can capitalize on their niche.
Moreover, various business people have also started publishing content behind a paywall.
Youpreneur is one of the most notable examples. It’s one of many membership websites for entrepreneurs - providing valuable insight and training for aspiring coaches, freelancers, bloggers, authors, etc.
Popular Membership Sites
We’ve already gone through many examples of membership websites, but there’s plenty more that deserve mention.
Of course, that’s not entirely possible, so we’ve picked a few more that caught our attention.
Succulent and Sunshine
The SUCCS community is strong in this one, and it’s probably one of the top membership sites when it comes to botany.
Cassidy Tuttle turned her passion for growing succulents into a profitable income. Her membership consists of premium content and exclusive tips on nurturing your succulent plants.
On top of that, it’s one of the most profitable narrow niche websites with a 6-figure profit that’s increasing year on year!
The Internet is stacked with fitness websites and influencers, but it's hard to find one as unique as Nerd Fitness.
Their membership plan consists of a pretty big promise – they’ll help you hit your fitness goals no matter who you are.
This is really important messaging that helps grow their membership site for a few reasons.
First up, the brand messaging immediately fills you with trust and connects the visitors with the type of people currently in their community. This prevents people who wouldn't be a good fit from joining and the group.
Secondly, this impacts sales as they increase the conversion rate, helps them create content that everyone will want and they don't waste time supporting people who are not the right fit.
The main point, to take away from this is. Find a niche and stick to your core value proposition to attract the right type of member.
Can you learn to play the piano without actually having a piano? Yes, with Pianu. This membership website allows you to tap the keys on your computer while going through some of the best piano courses online.
It’s a fun replacement for the real thing, mostly as it does such a great job of teaching you all the basics. The website was so popular that during its first year, it grew to 50k members!
Starting your own restaurant can be a dream job, but the struggles along the way put a lot of aspiring restaurateurs.
Fortunately, Running Restaurants offer you a chance to bypass all these hardships with tricks, tools, and techniques they provide with their membership.
High-quality webinars, articles, checklists, and PR opportunities allow users to take their restaurants to the next level and profit.
How to Build a Membership Site
Okay, you’ve got it all. You have your passion, your niche, and your idea for a top membership website. What’s next?
Believe it or not, building a membership website is easier than it seems. Especially if you’re aware of some of the best membership site builders around.
Yes, there’s a tool for everything, but not all tools are created equal. WordPress powers almost 40% of all websites online and contains a bunch of plugins. But it’s too broad.
You want a tool that focuses on building a sales funnel and automate your marketing and sales processes. You’d also want an all-in-one platform for creating courses, have your marketing campaigns, easily apply memberships, and design the website according to your needs.
What are the possibilities?
Tools like Kajabi, ClickFunnels, Thinkific could be what you’re looking for.
Kajabi is probably the most well-rounded as ClickFunnels is optimized for building sales funnels, while Thinkific is primarily a course builder.
But what if we tell you there’s a smoother, better, and feature-rich Kajabi alternative?
With this little tool, building membership sites becomes a cakewalk. Create landing pages and sales funnels, create courses, and make membership websites. Set up payment plans and collect payments as well – all in one place.
And the best part is that you can create multiple projects at once and control all your customer data. Each project will act as a different website/brand with its own domain or subdomain.
How to Build a Membership Site With Hyax?
If the idea for your next project is shining brightly in your mind, Hyax turns it into reality in a few simple clicks. Here’s what you have to do:
Head over to Hyax’s website and set up your account.
Click on “New Project” to start building a website for your brand.
Select a username for your project and set up your domain name.
Select the “Membership” icon on the sidebar to the left.
Here you can customize your membership type, which posts will go behind the paywall, set up plans and payment methods.
In the end, you can just click on the top-right to check out how does your project’s homepage looks like.
And just like that, you’ve built your first membership website.
But you may wonder – What now? Well, you got to promote the hell out of it. And we’ll show you some tips.
How to Market a Membership Site
Getting your first 100 members is the hardest part of any membership site. But don’t worry, it gets easier once the wheels start turning.
Here are some pro tips and tricks that will help you reach your target audience in no time and start building on that.
#1 – Create and Promote Free Content + SEO
You can put the most valuable and exclusive content behind a paywall, but it’s always good to share some relevant content for free.
First of all, if you hide your entire website under a login page, you’ll have trouble ranking it on Google. Therefore, any SEO expert would recommend keeping a part of your website accessible to everyone.
Moreover, you can use that free content to promote the value of the membership that you’re offering. Think about it – how would anyone opt for your membership if they have no idea what kind of content to expect?
Plus, that same content can actually drive a bunch of people who wouldn’t otherwise know about you directly to your page. The only important thing is to promote that content well…
#2 – Leverage Social Channels
Every content marketer knows that social channels are a treasure. It’s the best and most effective way to distribute your content to a broad audience for free.
Take some time to provide value on social platforms as it can both improve your brand and lead traffic back to your membership page.
Reddit: Reddit is a perfect place to find active niche communities. It’s full of subreddits on various topics with passionate users coming together to exchange content, ideas, feedback, etc. Find appropriate subforums, make threads and answer questions, and start making your name in your niche.
Facebook Groups: Like Reddit, you can find almost any passionate community on Facebook as well. Use it to build your persona and authority in your niche, and you’ll naturally draw people toward you.
Twitter: Find relevant Twitter hashtags for your niche and post content along with using those hashtags. You may get noticed, followed, retweeted, and expand your userbase.
Quora: Is there a better way to show authority in your niche than helping your target audience in need? You can use Quora to answer relevant questions, provide value, and increase your followers.
Depending on your niche, you could find different forums and online communities to start building your name. Also, places like Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn could prove to be great places to promote.
#3 – Use Paid Advertising to Build Your Niche
It’s not unusual for membership sites to use paid advertising in the hope of increasing traffic and capture their perfect audience.
You can use social media ads to target specific people who are much more likely to enjoy your content. You can also use Facebook to boost those free content pieces that you post to promote your website.
When you want to attract people, you sometimes have to rely on word to mouth. These are the highest quality leads as people will always trust the word of other people they trust—much more than they’ll ever trust your claims.
Of course, it can be challenging to squeeze out testimonials or feedback in the beginning. You can’t force the hand of your members, but you can make them want to do it on their own.
Make your top members share your posts, retweet you, etc., by hosting a giveaway program to launch your brand to the spotlight. If you want some in-depth look into how it works, you can check some case studies from Vyper.
#5 – One-Time Public Launch
The top membership sites have that “one special day” where they make “some” or “all” of their paywalled content completely free.
Think Cyber Monday & Black Friday deal, Prime day, Christmas day. Whatever big event or sale you can think of.
With a good promotional campaign, you can open the door to tons of prospects that are in two minds about signing up for your membership.
But by giving them a glimpse into what they’re missing by not signing up, you’re triggering a FOMO. They know they’ll lose that value if they don’t subscribe, so they act on impulse.
Setting a time limit on the free pass (24 hours, 1 week, etc.)
Of course, this means that you need top-notch content and a well-designed website as well!
#6 – Reward Early Adopters
Your first members are usually the most valuable and loyal. They are placing those building blocks that will later act as a foundation of your empire.
Thus, encourage your first members to refer others and talk about your brand by offering discount prices, extra content, exclusive rewards. Call them (maybe meet-up in person).
Later Stages: Keep Building Relationships
After you attract new members and build a decent user base, you’ve just stepped into a much more daunting task – membership retention.
Your work isn’t done when they hit that subscribe button. For instance, disillusioned members can easily cancel the subscription. If you are not living up to your reputation, your brand's lifetime value will start to decrease.
Be accessible - You’re a person of authority and someone who is always there to answer questions.
Be consistent - Keep your tribe engaged by always posting new content and engage in discussions. Hire or ask top contributing members to be community managers to keep engagement up.
Be personal – Utilize your email list. Send new content via email, make an onboarding email drip to welcome new members, and make them feel familiar with your brand.
Checklist to Get Started
Jack Paxton is the co-founder of VYPER, a marketing tool that helps brands build email lists, social followings, and revenue using viral giveaways, referral, and reward programs. After millions of dollars spent testing different marketing strategies at his marketing agency. He then also co-founded Hyax a fast, conversion & design-focused course and funnel builder for creators.
Digital products like ebooks, online courses, private groups/memberships, etc., allow you to create a passive income stream with the potential to last many years. Vs. a brand dealing being a one-and-done opportunity.
Teachers today can sell online courses, host online classes, and even offer remote consultation services, all from the comfort of their homes. In addition, online courses are accessible to anyone from around the world at any given time.
So this means no time constraints on making money - Earn while class is out or while you're even asleep!
So you want to create an online course. That's great! But what should it be about? This can be a tough question to answer, but don't worry - we're here to help. In this guide, we will discuss strategies that can help you decide what online course you're qualified to make. We'll also give you some tips on how to find a topic your students will love for your online course.