Launching a membership site is no walk in the park. With all the tasks involved, it’s easy to get lost and forget one or more critical tasks, making your launch a disaster. Let’s turn that around in this blog post and break a complicated launch into phases and steps that you can simply follow to make sure your membership site is a hit.
There’s so much that goes into getting an internet project off the ground, and membership sites are no exception.
The content has to be made and uploaded, members have to be recruited, and the site has to run smoothly before the launch. Add to these the little tasks in between that have an impact on your membership site and the launch itself, and it’s really easy to get confused and miss important tasks that you need to do.
In today’s blog post, I attempt to break down launching a membership site into easy-to-follow steps to reduce overwhelm and increase your chances of success.
Note: I do have some assumptions going into this. I’m assuming that you’ve set up your domain, hosting, CMS, and membership plugins. I’m also assuming that you’ve set up your email autoresponders and know how to use your landing page software.
This is because you can get all these technical details elsewhere, and for this article, I want to focus on the actual launch of your membership site.
Purpose: To get your membership site and everything else in order before promoting and launching your site.
If you’re doing this right, you might find that the bulk of the work is in the pre pre-launch phase. It may sound ridiculous to have a phase before your pre-launch, but you want to prepare as much as possible before actually going through the launch.
Content is what your members will be paying for, and so you want your content to provide value and everything you’ve promised.
How you create your content will depend on what type of content you initially decided to put on your membership site. Just remember to keep it as high-quality as you possibly can.
Create your initial launch content. When your members sign up to your membership site, you don’t want them to figuratively open a door to an empty house, especially if you promised an instant access, straight-off delivery method (i.e., you’re delivering the content all at once when your members pay the membership fee).
You might think that it’s easy to sell an empty membership site and then develop the content later, but in those few weeks and months after the launch, you’re going to be too busy with other tasks to create content.
The smart thing to do is to have all the content your members will be expecting once they join your site.
Then again, you don’t want to put everything on the site if you don’t need to. If you promised a continuous or dripped delivery method content, you only have to set up the initial content in this stage.
The bottom line is that when your members join, they should be able to readily access the content you promised them.
Draft a content development plan for the launch and beyond. As content creators, we tend to underestimate the time we need to create content, so when drawing up a content plan, remember that it’s better to overestimate the time you need, especially for the launch.
After the launch, you’re going to continue creating and updating your content, so plan for that as well.
Keep in mind that depending on the feedback you get after you launch, your existing content may have to be updated immediately, or that you’ll need to add content that you didn’t plan for. So allow ample time for these unexpected changes and tweaks to your content.
Create your lead magnet. While you’re at it, you might as well create the lead magnet that you’re going to use in a later stage to entice your target audience to join your membership site.
Your lead magnet isn’t merely a short version of your content; it’s a means for you to get the right people to sign up. Thus, it has to be something that your target audience will find interesting.
This early, you want the tracking and analytics on your landing page, emails, and membership site itself to be in place.
You’ll want to be able to capture information such as the number of visits to your landing page, how many times your lead magnet was downloaded, which links in your emails were clicked and how many times, and how many of the people in your waitlist ultimately signed up in your membership site.
Setting up your analytics at this stage allows you to test this part early and troubleshoot any errors. This ensures you get complete and accurate information from the start.
The first interactions that your members have with you and your site are critical to their decision to stay with you or cancel after the first month.
When a member first logs in to your site and immediately feels confused, disappointed, or any other negative emotion, it’s going to be difficult to turn that around and get them to feel differently.
So get it right the first time.
Decide on the first actions you want your members to take. When someone logs in to your membership site, the last thing you need them to think is “now what?”
Plan the actions you want your members to take when they log in to your site for the first time. Do you want them to go straight to the forums? Or do you want to show them a roadmap for them to plan their progress by?
Maybe you want them to make their own roadmap and track their own progress toward their own goals in their own way. Or maybe you just want them to simply download their first ebook or worksheet and take off from there.
Whatever it is, you want to inspire your members to actually start doing something with their membership because when they’ve started to take action, it’s easier for them to continue to do so.
Decide on what members need to know to maximize their use of the website. Aside from which actions they need to start taking, you also want to guide them to the content and features of your site that will benefit them the most.
Handpick your best content and show that first to give your members an appreciation of the quality of the content you’re offering. Similarly, highlight features that they may overlook.
For example, if you offer a monthly Q&A session where everyone can submit questions for you to answer, or the ability to directly message you or other members who are logged on to the site, make sure you point it out to them.
It’s ultimately their choice if they’re going to use it, but it helps if they know about the features in the first place.
Based on these first two points, create a member tour or getting started video. Video remains the most practical and easily understandable mode of instruction, especially if you need to show screen captures of your site while you’re accessing a page or doing something like logging in or downloading content.
Plan and compose your onboarding email sequence. In addition to the video welcome tour, an onboarding email sequence can be helpful to your members.
This is especially helpful if you have a large membership site with plenty of features and content so you can give information piece by piece and avoid having them feeling overloaded.
The simplest sequence you can do is a welcome email followed by a “getting started” email with how to log in and how to use your site, and then a sneak peek of what your plans are for the site and what they can expect if they stay on.
Your onboarding process will certainly undergo some polishing later on when you’re finalizing your site, and improving on your process is much simpler if you already have it planned out.
It’s never too early to test your setup. Before you launch, you need to make sure that your site is working as smoothly as possible.
First, look at the general performance of the site. How much time does it take to load a page? Does it handle errors gracefully or does it just display an error message with no context and no information on how to correct the error?
Navigate your own site. Can you find important things in the page quickly, or does it take you a while? How about on mobile? Does it display correctly on smartphones and tablets?
Test the flow your members will normally take: clicking the link to your site from their email or your social media post or from Google search, to your landing page, to downloading your lead magnet. Does everything go without a hitch?
How about actually joining your site? From your landing page or sales page to payment to logging in to your site: is everything working?
Another important aspect you might overlook is the emails that your autoresponder will be sending to everyone who signed up for your waiting list and eventually to your site. Are these emails being sent and received? Or are they going to the spam folder?
Finally, testing these yourself is good, but asking a friend to do it or actually hiring a tester to do it is even better. Some glitches only rear their ugly heads when other computers are involved aside from your own, so take the time (and expense) to have a third party test this for you.
Before you even launch, you need to lay down the foundations for your lead generation efforts. This will help you gauge if there’s any interest at all in what you have to offer.
Create your landing page to offer the lead magnet you created two steps ago. The purpose of this landing page is to get people to sign up for the waiting list for your membership site.
This waiting list should be comprised of people who are, at the very least, interested in your membership site and what you have to offer, so it’s your job to pique and sustain this interest.
Send them regular updates on how your site is coming along. You can do it like a countdown (e.g., “Only X weeks until launch date, and here’s what I’m working on”) so they have something to look forward to.
You can even post “behind-the-scenes” kind of content like photos or videos of you working on the site.
It’s also important to open the communication lines at this point. Encourage them to ask any questions or make any constructive suggestions. Getting your waiting list invested in your site at this early stage will make it easier for them to join as members and make them likely to be loyal, long-term members down the road.
Purpose: To generate buzz, get people to anticipate your launch, and build a relationship with your target audience to get as many of them to sign up as possible.
Your pre pre-launch can go on for months, but the pre-launch phase is typically shorter. This can vary, but you normally want a 2- to 4-week period before the launch date because a shorter pre-launch might not be enough to build the kind of anticipation you want, and a longer pre-launch might see your campaign losing steam.
The perfect pre-launch strategy would depend on your niche and how big your membership site is, but the goal is the same: make some noise so people can’t ignore your launch and attract as many of your target audience to join.
Remember how you made the landing page promoting your lead magnet so people will sign up for your waitlist?
Well, you’re going to repurpose it in this phase.
In the pre pre-launch phase, its purpose was to entice people to sign up for the waiting list for your membership site, but when you’re at the pre-launch phase, you need this to entice people to sign up as members of the actual site.
After they download the lead magnet you’re offering, the next step is for them to receive an email follow-up series.
The emails you send here are different from the emails you sent your waiting list in that you already have the membership site ready to go and you’re describing its features and benefits as a completed site, and not as a work in progress.
Aside from introducing your site, you can add value by including bonus content. The call to action is toward the sales page where they can join, highlighting your one-time offer of a huge discount on the membership fee.
What happens to your waiting list while this is going on? Well, they should get a better one-time offer, that’s for sure. I’d recommend keeping their email series separate, because they ultimately have a different sales page and a different one-time offer.
In addition, most of the details you’re sharing to the “newer” list are details that your waiting list already knows. You want those who believed in you first to feel a bit more special, so treat them as such by having a separate email series and one-time offer for them.
Introducing new elements could potentially throw off the elements of your sales process and the membership site itself that you’ve already tested, so confirm all the possible flows again during this stage.
If people have already joined at this point and have encountered problems, address them as soon as you possibly can and stay on top of issues until they’re resolved.
People and systems aren’t perfect and errors and mistakes may still be present, but showing that you’re able to deal with it in an efficient and professional manner goes a long way in projecting a favorable impression of you as a site owner and as an authority in your niche.
It’s time to ramp up the promotional efforts for your site.
Spread the word on your social media and give your followers sneak peeks of the site you’re about to launch. If you have a blog, this is the time to create related content around the launch. You can even try to publish guest posts on other blogs.
You can even enlist those on your waiting list to help you promote your launch by holding a contest where the entries can be posting about your membership site launch in their social media. Winners can get free membership for a year, for example.
Having a budget for paid ads can benefit you as well. You can take out paid social media ads on social media platforms your target audience uses. You can also take out Google ads so you’re visible on search engines as well.
On launch day, i.e., when your membership site actually goes live, there’s likely to be a surge of visitors to your site (that is, if you managed to impress plenty of people enough for them to want to join).
Testing with only one or two testers won’t be able to cover every possible scenario that could go wrong within your processes, so be ready to deal with these issues before they arise.
Let your payment provider know when your launch date is so they don’t block your account due to an increase in money coming in. People can be very protective of their information (as they should be) and if they encounter an issue with your payment page, they might not trust you enough to go through that again.
You’ll also want to let your hosting provider know so you can try to have them temporarily increase your bandwidth allocation for you on your launch date as well as the days before and after so your site doesn’t crash during those critical days.
You’ll also want to prepare for the flood of questions and inquiries you’ll get during this period. Be open to hiring launch support personnel if needed. Ideally, you’ll have one person handling customer service and another handling technical support.
The most common (and apparently effective) way to launch a membership site nowadays is to hold a live webinar on a specific page or through a Facebook Live event.
These live webinars usually run for an hour, 50 minutes of which are value-packed and filled with takeaways that the audience can apply immediately. The last 10 minutes are for introducing the membership site to the audience, as well as emphasizing your one-time offer of lower membership fees only if they sign up during the launch period.
Others offer a special discount on launch day (e.g., 60% off) that goes down the next day (e.g., 50% off) and so on until the membership fee goes up to its regular rate. Whatever your offer is, make sure it’s enticing while not selling yourself too short.
Purpose: Officially open your membership site to the public and convince your target audience to join.
You set a launch date, but the launch phase actually lasts around 3 to 7 days. This way, you have time to reach more of your target audience and make an effort to convince them to join.
Having the launch last a few days also gives you time to convince those who expressed initial interest but dropped off.
This is your moment of truth: making your membership site live and allowing the early birds to log in and explore your site.
When you take the membership site live, make sure to schedule the announcement email at the same time so that everyone on the waiting list, as well as everyone on your pre-launch mailing list, knows that you’ve gone live.
This is also the time to activate the onboarding process you created in the pre pre-launch phase so that your new members know where to go, what to do, and how to do it.
It’s also at this point where the early birds will notice errors or bugs in your site, so be ready to receive and respond to these reports.
During the launch phase, all of your promotional activity should be related to your membership site launch. Your social media posts, email marketing (yes, even to the mailing list for your blog if you have one), and content should all be about it.
Your launch period lasts for a few days, so you need to keep up the momentum for the period so you can recruit as many members as you can. This means doing a live webinar for every one of these days can be a good way to increase the probability of people signing up.
Aside from your automated onboarding process for those who signed up, you might want to have an additional email that goes out after a set amount of time, say 7 to 10 days, to your new members.
Ask them how their experience has been, if they need help with anything, and if they have any questions or suggestions.
Show them you care about their experience even though their card has been charged and the membership fees are in. Establish a two-way communication with your members so you can make a real connection and build a lasting relationship.
The fact is, not everyone who signed up for your waiting list will join your membership site. This goes for those who signed up during your pre-launch, too.
While they may have reasons for not joining at this point in time, it can’t hurt to at least strive to get them back. Send out an email series as a last-ditch attempt to reconsider walking away from your membership site. Ask them why they aren’t interested and if there’s anything they aren’t sure about so you can clarify it for them.
If you get replies, great! Having solid objections to overcome means they’re interested and if you can remove those objections then they’ll join. If not, that’s okay too. Leave them be at the end of your launch period because if they haven’t joined at this point, it’s unlikely they’ll ever join.
The important thing is that they have you on their mind, and if they do decide that they want to join your site, they can always go back and join. Plus, they might still recommend you to other people who might benefit from your site.
Purpose: Ensure that everyone—your waiting list, your members, and even those who didn’t end up joining your site—has a great experience with you and your site.
The period immediately after the launch is the time for you to pay attention to your analytics as well as feedback from your audience: the ones on your waiting list, the ones who joined, and the ones who expressed interest but didn’t join.
Use the insight that you gain in this phase to continually improve your membership site.
On the other hand, listen to what your members tell you, but never be bullied or intimidated into steering away from your goal to help as many people as possible. Receive both positive reviews and criticism gracefully, and always ask yourself “is it for everyone’s good, or just a small percentage of my members?” before implementing any changes.
The analytics that you put in place in your pre pre-launch phase will be front and center now as you analyze the data. How many visitors came to your site from your various promotional efforts? How many viewed your live webinars, and how many of those actually joined your site?
This post-mortem isn’t to discourage you in case your launch wasn’t a hit; it’s for you to learn from the experience. For example, you might learn that your target audience is more convinced by your long-form blog posts that your social media posts. Or you might learn that you’re not very effective in live webinars.
You want to know all these for your future reference. When you launch a product, a blog, or re-launch your membership site in the future, you’ll want your notes and takeaways from this launch experience to inform your strategy.
You’ll also want to know what your members are doing when they’re inside your site. Are they doing the actions you directed them to on their onboarding process? Or did they ignore that completely and do something else? What type of content seems to be the most popular? Which of the features are being used?
Use the insights you gain to create more of the content your members like to see (even if you have to revise the content plan you initially made) and retain features they seem to like using while working on features they aren’t using.
When running a membership site, two of the most important statistics are your churn rate and your growth rate.
To put it simply, the churn rate is the rate at which you’re losing members on a monthly basis, while the growth rate is the rate at which you’re gaining members on a monthly basis.
You won’t get a handle on this until after the first month that your membership site is live, but it helps to start keeping track this early so you have a baseline.
If your churn rate is greater than your growth rate (i.e., you’re losing more members than you can recruit), you need to examine your site and work harder at retaining your existing members.
You should be communicating with your members regularly for as long as they’re members of your site, but the first members of your site, aka your founding members, should be in a special category.
Remember, these are the members who believed in you first. Ask for their feedback and make them feel like you value what they’re saying. If they’re invested in your success, they’ll want a better site for your sake as well as theirs.
Like establishing relationships with your members, you should always be working on improving your site. But the period immediately after the launch is where you’re likely to have major adjustments that have a huge impact on your site.
Change your content plan if you need to. You might even want to change the type of content that you’ll be serving up. If you planned to post more video content but your members seem to like your ebooks better, adapt. Find out why they prefer the ebooks and either modify the video content or focus on creating more text-based content.
Improve the features of your site as well if the feedback and data tell you that you need to. If a feature isn’t well-liked or even being used by your members, consider changing it or removing it altogether.
While it’s fun brainstorming for membership site ideas, the real work is in actually launching it, as you can see in this massive blog post.
Here’s a recap of all the steps in launching a membership site:
Planning to launch soon? Which phase are you in right now? Share your struggles and wins in the comments!
This is the 4th of a 6-part membership site masterplan series. I highly recommend reading them in order.
For your reference, here are links to all the articles in the series:
JoAnne is your average, everyday, sane stay-at-home mom who believes in the power of the internet to make dreams come true. She has an insatiable appetite for chocolate, as well as all things internet marketing. She keeps up with the latest trends in blogging, affiliate marketing, e-commerce, and more.