6 Membership Site Business Models To Consider

6 Membership Site Business Models To Consider

By JoAnne D. | Membership Sites

6 Membership Site Business Models To Consider

Starting a membership site is one of the ways you can build an online business. In today’s blog post, I define what a membership site is, its pros and cons, and describe some membership site business models that can form the basis for your membership site.

For many, owning an online business is the goal to aspire to.

And membership sites are one of the ways to start a profitable online business.

But what exactly is a membership site, and what are the ways you can make it work?

I’ll attempt to answer these questions in today’s article. First, we define what a membership site is and the pros and cons of starting one. Finally, I describe some membership site business models to bear in mind when you decide to get started.

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What Is A Membership Site?

First things first: what do we mean when we say “membership site”?

A membership site is a website containing gated content, features, or community that only subscribed members are able to access and consume.

5 people huddled together

Let’s break this definition down a little bit.

“Gated” here means restricted such that the protected content, features, or community isn’t accessible except to subscribed members.

“Subscribed members” are members who are paying a membership fee, which is either a one-time or a recurring payment. Only these subscribed members can access and consume the gated content. The payment frequency varies depending on the content and the niche, but generally, membership sites charge membership fees monthly.

The “content” being protected behind a gate refers to digital products, such as articles, reports, ebooks, podcasts, webinars, video tutorials, templates, software, and more.

What motivates readers to join membership sites? Convenience, kinship, but most importantly, exclusivity.

Something that’s restricted automatically becomes more desirable to us.

The promise of premium content, special offers, and exclusive access to special features are all strong motivators to join a membership site.

Why Start A Membership Site?

A membership site is definitely one of the best ways to start an online business, but it’s not for everyone.

Here are a number of benefits and drawbacks that you need to take into consideration when you’re deciding if starting a membership site is right for you and your niche.

Benefits

Membership sites generate recurring income. If you have a monthly membership site with more or less a steady number of members, that’s a monthly regular income.

dollar bills and coins

Creating a membership site establishes you as an authority in your niche. The fact that people pay to gain access to your content is a strong testament that you’re a thought leader in your niche.

Membership sites potentially have a high return on investment.
The amount of potential income you can make compared to the actual time and money you spend is significantly higher, provided you can constantly maintain your followers.

Building a membership site is like building your own community. Having your followers on your own platform where you can directly interact with them is so much better than depending on social media platforms because you can set your own guidelines and you’ll have much better control of who can join.

Also, having loyal followers means you’ll have a better chance of offering them future products and services if you do decide to go that route. They already trust you, so the selling part will be focused more on the actual benefits rather than starting from scratch and getting them to trust you.

Running a membership site allows you greater flexibility. As with most online businesses, once you have the site up and running, you can pretty much work wherever and whenever you want, for as long as you want (of course, as long as you have access to the Internet).

Drawbacks

Creating content, keeping features up to date, and maintaining the community are immensely demanding work. Members will only stay members if you continue delivering valuable content, keeping your site features working, and checking in with your community.

When your members can get what you’re making them pay for elsewhere, for a lower fee or for free, even, they’ll get out of your site and your paid membership model will fail.

Regular fees mean you also need to deliver regularly, otherwise the fees dry up.

Building up to a higher income takes a while. Any potential income you’ll get from a membership site starts small and increases over time. Hitting your target income in a matter of weeks is rare, if not impossible.

different sized stacks of coins

You’ll need to set aside plenty of time to engage with your members. One of the reasons why you have members that are subscribed to your site is because you stated or implied that you’ll be more accessible to them.

You’ll have more messages, comments, and questions than you’ll ever have than if you were running a blog. One day, you can set up an FAQ section on the site so beginners can find help there or even delegate customer service to a team, but when you’re only just starting, answering these messages is part of your growing pains.

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Membership Site Business Models

Now that you’ve weighed the pros and cons of starting a membership site, and you’ve decided that you want to go ahead with it, the next thing you need to think about is what business model to pattern your membership site after.

What ties these different business models together is that the members need to pay for access to exclusive content. Other than that, depending on your niche and your business goals, you should be able to find that one or more of these business models are a good fit for you.

Here are different membership site business models you might want to consider.

1. Traditional model

This is the classic, three-step model wherein:

  1. The aspiring member applies or signs up for membership.
  2. They pay the membership fee (either a one-time payment or the initial payment of a monthly plan).
  3. The member gains access to the gated content and the community.

 

It’s that simple.

The gated content can be an online course, ebooks, or any other digital content.

The community aspect is usually a forum where members can swap tips and advice about a specific topic or problem. Long after the members have consumed the content, the community provided by the forum can be what keeps them subscribed to the site.

2. Drip-fed model

The problem with the traditional model is that some sneaky members sign up, pay the upfront or initial fee, download everything, and then unsubscribe or terminate the membership.

While it’s certainly not illegal, it’s certainly less than ideal.

A solution to this is to upload new content (or “trickle”) every month, encouraging your members to stay subscribed.

drip coffee

More than preventing sneaky members from signing up, feeding content slowly can also help readers to not be overwhelmed by too much information available at one time.

You can set it up so that regardless of when members join, they go through the same delivery of information. For example, they get access to Content A when they first join, Content B after 30 days, and so on.

When you do it this way, however, it’s a bit difficult to set up a forum, because members aren’t going through the content at the same time. You’ll have to be creative when setting this up to lessen the confusion.

Another way to do this is to only let in members during certain periods so that everyone receives the same content at the same time. It’s easier to set up a community this way because everyone’s in sync.

3. Fixed-term model

In this model, the members have a fixed membership period. At the end of the fixed period, their membership automatically ends.

The fixed membership period can range anywhere from 7 days to 12 months, depending on the content or product of the membership site.

Fixed-term membership is unique in that members know exactly how long they’re committed for, which works better for some niches such as weight loss or self-improvement.

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4. Service-based model

This model is unique in that the gated content here isn’t really content but a service. For example, you can offer one-on-one coaching or consultancy on whatever niche you’re in.

You can actually offer this service on your blog without having to keep it behind a paywall, but for more complex topics, you can accompany the service with member-only resources and tools such as a complete content library, worksheets to record their progress, a central place to keep their notes on their individual sessions with you, and pre-recorded videos.

This also saves you the awkwardness of asking for payment from clients because they’re signing up for a continuous service instead of a per-transaction basis.

texting

“Hi, could you maybe pay me for that coaching session we did last month…?”

If one-on-one coaching isn’t something that your target audience can afford, you can also offer group coaching or consultancy services. You get to charge higher for longer sessions and more content, but they won’t mind so much because it’s a group rate and is thus more affordable for them individually.

5. Social model

You can include aspects of community in any other membership site model, but you can also have the community as the main gated resource.

Private forums, messaging boards, exclusive events or meetups, and email updates are all examples of what you can offer. It’s true that social media can offer almost the same features for free, but having to pay a fee is a pretty strong deterrent for trolls, scammers, and those who aren’t serious about engaging and helping other members.

You can continue to host premium content, but the main focus of a social membership site should be the community itself; interactions among members, as well as their interactions with you.

group of people gathered around a small bonfire

This model is probably the most time-intensive and hands-on among the ones I’ve listed down. You’ll have to find and vet new members, interact and connect with the current members, and attempt to retain members who are leaving.

However, a community-based membership site can also be the most rewarding. Aside from the high professional value of networking with people with similar interests, you’re also offering a high personal value of creating a community where members feel a sense of belonging and kinship.

6. Hybrid model

It may be hard to choose just one of these models, and the good thing about membership sites is that they can be anything you want them to be.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and combine models that work for you and your target audience. Conversely, don’t be afraid to subtract certain aspects of a model that aren’t working. The perfect membership site model is the one that works for you and your members.

Just take care not to go overboard and make it too complicated. The point of mixing and matching isn’t to make a “supersite”; the point is to offer the maximum amount of value possible in a manageable space.

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Conclusion

Running a membership site is one of the best ways you can earn a regular income online. Let’s recap what we’ve learned about membership sites:

What Is A Membership Site?

A membership site is a website containing gated content, features, or community that only subscribed members are able to access and consume.

Pros And Cons Of A Membership Site

Pros:

  • Membership sites generate recurring income.
  • Creating a membership site establishes you as an authority in your niche.
  • Membership sites potentially have a high return of investment.
  • Building a membership site is like building your own community.
  • Running a membership site allows you greater flexibility.

Cons:

  • Creating content, keeping features up to date, and maintaining the community are immensely demanding work.
  • Building up to a higher income takes a while.
  • You’ll need to set aside plenty of time to engage with your members.

Membership Site Business Models

  • Traditional model
  • Drip-fed model
  • Fixed-term model
  • Service-based model
  • Social model
  • Hybrid model

 

Hopefully, this article has defined what a membership site is, the pros and cons of starting one, and membership site business models you can base your site on.

Over To You

Are you planning to start a membership site soon? Or do you already have one? Was this information helpful? Talk to me in the comments!

The Membership Site Masterplan Series

This is the first 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:

About the Author

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.

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