The Ultimate Membership Site Masterplan: How To Start A Membership Site

The Ultimate Membership Site Masterplan: How To Start A Membership Site

By JoAnne D. | Membership Sites

The Ultimate Membership Site Masterplan: How To Start A Membership Site

Recurring revenue, a loyal community, and flexible working hours: a membership site allows you to have all these. Today’s blog post outlines a membership site masterplan you can follow to help you create your dream business.

There are numerous ways to make money online.

But a paid membership site is probably one of the best ways to earn a regular income while establishing a loyal community and having a flexible work schedule.

In this massive blog post, I’m going to outline a membership site masterplan that you can follow to conceptualize, build, launch, and grow your own membership site.

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Membership Site Masterplan

Stage 1: Getting Into The Membership Mindset

First, let’s define what a membership site is, plus the pros and cons of starting one so you’ll know if a membership site is a right fit for you. Then, I’ll describe some membership site business models that you can pattern your membership site after.

What Is A Membership Site?

Below is our working definition of a membership site, which is pretty straightforward:

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

Membership sites are a great way to make money online, but it’s not for everyone. When making the decision whether to start up a membership site, consider the following pros and cons.

Pros:

  • A membership site generates a regular income.
  • Running a membership site establishes you as an authority in your niche.
  • Membership sites give you a high potential profit for the effort you put in.
  • Creating a membership site is like having your own community.
  • A membership site allows you to work wherever and whenever you want, as long as you have an internet connection.

Cons:

  • Constantly creating and updating content, fine-tuning features, and engaging with the community are taxing, even for the most seasoned membership site owner.
  • Increasing income takes a while.
  • Interacting with members takes up a lot of time that doesn’t always translate into profit.

Membership Site Business Models

When you’ve decided that a membership site fits your vision of an online business that you can run, the next thing you need to study is what business model would fit your niche or topic.

macbook open with display showing some images

Here are some business models for you to consider.

  • Traditional model. Members sign up and pay the membership fee, they get access to your content.
  • Drip-fed model. Members sign up and pay the fee, they get access to content you periodically upload.
  • Fixed-term model. Members sign up and pay the fee, they get access to your content for a limited time, membership ends.
  • Service-based model. Members sign up and pay the fee, you provide them services as long as they’re subscribed.
  • Social model. Members sign up and pay the fee, they get access to a closed community with private forums, exclusive events and meetups, and premium content both from you and other members.
  • Hybrid model. Any combination of the above models.

 

Related reading:
6 Membership Site Business Models To Consider

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Stage 2: Brainstorming And Validating Your Membership Ideas

In this next stage, I’ll go into how to formulate ideas and validate them. I’ll also enumerate some profitable membership site ideas for inspiration.

Brainstorming Membership Site Ideas

Your membership site should be formed around a single central purpose: solving your members’ problems.

Understanding your target audience, their goals, and the challenges they struggle with when trying to achieve those goals will get you closer to formulating a solution for them.

brainstorming woman in front of her desk

Listing down your ideas will also help you get organized. Here are some questions to ask yourself while racking your brains out.

  • What topics am I interested in and know almost everything about?
  • What problems do I know how to solve?
  • What skills do my target audience want to learn, and can I teach these skills?
  • What questions do I get asked on my blog and social media?
  • What questions do I read on other blogs and social media posts in my niche?
  • Do I have existing content related to these topics/problems/skills that can be repurposed?

 

You can narrow down the list you came up with by asking another set of questions for each idea you wrote down:

  • How popular is this subject?
  • Is there plenty of competition?
  • Will I be able to invest time and effort to constantly write content on this topic for the coming years?
  • How much is my target audience likely to pay to learn these skills?

 

At this point, you should be down to 2 or 3 ideas. Remember that these ideas should be: things that you’re passionate about, knowledgeable about, and that your audience will pay for them to learn about.

Validating Your Membership Site Ideas

When you have 1 or 2 ideas left, the next step is to validate these ideas before you start building your membership site. Here are the steps you need to take to validate your idea.

  1. Market research. Find out everything about your competition and if you can do better or offer something different.
  2. Create a minimum viable product (MVP). Confirm the demand for your idea by creating a smaller version of the membership idea you had in mind.
  3. Offer your MVP and see how it does. Create a landing page and promote your MVP. Study the analytics and get feedback to improve your MVP.
  4. Rinse and repeat until you’re confident in your idea or until you’re confident it won’t work. There’s no shame in perfecting your MVP until you have something that you absolutely believe will work. Similarly, there’s no shame in admitting that an idea needs to be scrapped and that you need to brainstorm for a new idea.

 

Examples of Profitable Membership Site Ideas

Let’s get the gears in your head turning with these membership site ideas that have proven to be profitable.

outline of head with gears inside

1. Online courses. These are popular because almost every niche has room for online courses. People are naturally hungry for knowledge and when you offer to teach something that people want to learn, they tend to grab the opportunity.

2. Library. In this era of googling everything, it’s still nice to have a repository of valuable content related to a specific topic. This is especially valuable when it’s regularly updated.

3. Job board. Connecting employers and prospective employees in one place benefits everyone. Employers have a smaller pool of candidates who are obviously interested and likely qualified, saving them time. Meanwhile, employees can apply for jobs more easily and have a better idea what skills and qualifications employers are looking for.

4. Club/Society. Creating a place where genuine enthusiasts of a specific hobby or die-hard fans of a certain niche could mingle and have productive, stimulating discussions can be profitable.

5. Dating site. This may be out of left field for you, but online dating is hard. Make it easier on those looking for a connection by providing a safe, restricted place where people can interact.

Related reading:
Profitable Membership Site Ideas That Will Make You Excited To Create One

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Stage 3: Drawing Up Your Membership Site Blueprint

At this point, you’ll need to plan out your membership site strategy: what you’re going to offer (content), how you’re going to present it (delivery method), and how long members can see the content (access).

In addition, you’ll need to decide how much you’ll charge your members (pricing), and where you’ll house your content and community (the actual site).

Membership Site Strategy: Content, Delivery, Access

elements of a membership site strategy: content, delivery, access

We refer to this trifecta of content, delivery, and access as your membership strategy because these factors make up the core of your membership site and dictates the membership site business model you’re working with. Combinations of variations of content, delivery, and access gives you an entirely different membership site.

Content
How successful your membership site is will depend largely on how valuable your content is. To give you an idea of the possibilities, here are some types of content you can offer your members:

  • eCourses
  • Live webinars
  • Regular mastermind calls
  • Text-based content
  • Library
  • Discussion board/community forum
  • Digital downloads
  • Member perks
  • Interviews/Q&A sessions with industry leaders
  • Member news and updates

 

Delivery
How you deliver the content to your members also matters in the structure of your membership site. Below are three different delivery methods of your content that you can choose from.

  • Straight off. Members get access to all of your content at the same time. Except for updates on existing content, new content is rarely to never added.
  • Continuous. Members get access to an initial repository of content plus new content added periodically, usually monthly.
  • Piecemeal. Members get new content at scheduled intervals starting from the date they join. Thus, not all members may have access to the same content at a given time.

 

Access
The type of access your members have to your content influences their payment method as well, so you’ll need to keep in mind your members’ needs and their ability to pay when deciding which one to implement. Here are different access options to choose from.

  • Recurring. Members’ access to your content continues as long as payment is received.
  • Lifetime. For a one-time payment, members get access to your content as long as your membership site is active.
  • Fixed term.Access is limited to a set period of time, after which membership is automatically canceled.
  • Pay-as-you-go.. Members pay for each piece of content or package of content that they consume.

 

Pricing: How Much Should You Charge?

Making decisions involving other people’s money is always a touchy affair. You want a price that

  • members are willing and can afford to pay,
  • offsets the cost of running your membership site, and
  • lets you take home a profit.

 

Website Setup: Where Should You Store Your Membership Site?

The final thing in your blueprint is the actual website itself. These are the technical components that you’ll need to build your membership site:

  • A domain name
  • Web hosting
  • A content management system (CMS)
  • A payment gateway
  • An email marketing service
  • A landing page creator

 

The last two aren’t really part of the actual website, but you can’t actually run a membership site without having an email marketing tool to email existing as well as prospective members, as well as a landing page creator to create landing pages on which to promote your membership site to new prospects.

For our recommendations, visit the related reading (link below) and check out all of them to see which ones fit your budget and your needs.

Related reading:
How To Create An Excellent Membership Site Blueprint

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Stage 4: Launching Your Membership Site

Perhaps the most stomach-churning and complicated stage of all, the launching of your membership site involves preparing for the launch, the actual launch of your website, and assessment activities after you’ve launched your website.

I’ve broken down the launch into 4 phases, with steps that you can simply follow so you don’t get too overwhelmed.

Phase 1: Pre Pre-Launch

This phase involves getting everything in order before you even promote and launch your membership site.

organized desk with laptop, planner, newspaper, calendar, coffee, clock, smartphone, and succulent

1. Create launch content.
When your members join, you want them to get the content you promised them. Aside from the initial content on your site, you’ll want to create the lead magnet you’re going to use in your promotions. This is also the right time to draft a content plan, especially when you want to continuously deliver content to your members.

2. Set up analytics.
Setting up, testing, and troubleshooting your analytics early on will save you a lot of time and trouble along the line.

3. Prepare onboarding process.
Help your members maximize your website by creating a member tour or getting started video.

4. Test, test, test.
Make sure your membership site, automated emails, and all the possible workflows your prospects will encounter all work as expected.

5. Prepare landing page and waiting list.
Gauging interest in your membership site early on can be accomplished by setting up a waiting list for your site and a landing page to promote the waiting list. When members sign up for your waiting list, email them regularly about how your site is coming along.

Phase 2: Pre-Launch

This 2- to 4-week period before your actual launch is when you create buzz and anticipation for your site. You want to make noise so that there’s no way your target audience misses your site launch.

6. Build sales page.
The purpose of this sales page is to entice people to sign up for your membership site. You can repurpose the landing page and lead magnet you used in the previous phase, but it’s a good idea to have a separate mailing list for these people who are just signing up now.

7. Do your final testing.
Introducing new elements to your membership site can possibly affect the elements you’ve already tested. It’s wise to ensure everything is still working.

8. Step up promotion.
Spread the word! Post on your blog, on social media, enlist your waiting list to help you promote your site, and take out paid ads if you can afford it.

9. Anticipate and stamp out potential issues on launch day.
Increased traffic to your site on the day of your launch can introduce potential issues with payment, hosting, and technical aspects of your site.

Contact your payment provider and web host so they know when your launch day is and they can prepare accordingly. You can also look into hiring temporary personnel for customer service and tech support just for the launch period.

10. Plan your launch event.
The most common way to launch a membership site is to hold a value-packed live webinar or Facebook Live session to educate people as well as promote your site.

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Phase 3: Launch

This is when you officially open your membership site to the public and convince your target audience to join.

11. Take the website live.
It’s now time to open your site to everyone and allow those who signed up early to explore your site and what you have to offer.

"open" sign hanging on door of establishment

12. Continue promoting the membership site.
During the launch period, your promotional efforts should go all into promoting your membership site: your social media posts, blog posts, and email marketing should all be attuned.

13. Welcome new members.
Aside from your automated onboarding email sequence, scheduling a “Hello, how’s everything?” email to go out 7 to 10 days after they’ve logged in is a good idea. Show them you care about their experience on your site and you’re committed to helping them if they need it.

14. Reel back the ones who got away.
Not everyone who signed up for your waiting list and your pre-launch will join your membership site, so now’s a good time to send a “Hi, still interested?” email and at least try to entice them to sign up.

Phase 4: Post-Launch

At this point, you want your members to maximize your site and feel they got their money’s worth, and you want everyone to have a great experience with you and your site.

15. Study your analytics data.
In this phase, you analyze the data that you started tracking in the pre pre-launch phase so you’ll learn where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Use the lessons you learn here to improve your site as well as your promotion strategies.

16. Start tracking your churn rate and growth rate.
The churn rate is the rate at which you’re losing members, while the growth rate is the rate at which you’re gaining members. These are normally measured on a monthly basis. You want to track these early so you have a baseline for the next month’s statistics.

17. Establish a relationship with your founding members.
Of course, you should always keep your communication lines open with your members for as long as they’re members on your site, but you should have a special place in your heart for the first ones who ever showed faith in you and your site.

18. Tweak the site based on feedback and analytics.
This period immediately after the launch is when you can expect to make significant changes to your site that will affect it long-term based on the data you’re tracking as well as feedback from your first few members.

The related reading below gives more details on the steps so you can have a more comprehensive look at what you need to do.

Related reading:
Launching A Membership Site: Steps To A Successful Liftoff

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Stage 5: Growing Your Membership Base

This stage is actually composed of two parts: increasing your membership signups and reducing cancellations. You need both for your membership site to remain profitable in the months and years to come.

Increase Membership Signups

To ensure your site is profitable for the months and years to come, you’ll need to continually increase your membership base. Below are some tactics you can use to increase the number of people signing up for your site.

1. Traffic Strategies
Driving more qualified, high-quality traffic to your membership website increases the likelihood that they’ll sign up to be members.

long exposure of headlights in traffic

2. Affiliate Programs
If you’re willing to invest in a long-term strategy while creating staunch advocates, starting an affiliate program might be a good fit for you.

3. Offers and Promotions
Special offers have always been used by both traditional and digital businesses to attract new prospects, but the challenge in using them to promote your membership site is drawing in new members while keeping existing members happy as well.

4. Contests and Giveaways
Contests are another time-tested strategy. Remember that the prizes you give away should be valuable to your target audience, not just to anyone. You don’t want members to participate in the contest but then cancel on their first month.

5. Email Remarketing
Email remarketing is for drawing back the ones who were on your checkout page, ready to sign up, but for some reason or another never completed the signup process (aka the ones who got away).

Membership Retention

Growing your membership base also means keeping the members you convinced to sign up. Here are some ways to convince your members to stay with you.

tourist looking at roadmap

1. Show members how to maximize your website.
If your members don’t know how to consume your content optimally, or which content is suited to their goals, or even how to get to your content, it’s all wasted. Teach your members how to find their way around your website so they can make the most out of their membership.

2. Give members some control over their membership.
Trusting your members with their own membership goes a long way in establishing a strong relationship with them.

Allow them to pause their membership and trust that they’ll be back. Let them change their payment method or payment plan and trust that they’ll continue paying you. When their payment methods have issues, give them some leeway before canceling their membership, and trust that they’ll fix the issue or provide an alternative payment method.

3. Make members invested in the site’s success.
Giving your members a reason to care about your success can be a strong deterrent for them to leave. Elevate their status in your community, offer incentives, or consider creating an exclusive affiliate program just for members.

friends at an outdoor party chatting and laughing

4. Appreciate your community.
Truth: Your members keep your site alive. Always make them feel acknowledged, celebrate their successes, and value their feedback.

5. Provide value consistently.
As long as your website is valuable to your members, they’ll stay on. Updating, improving, and adding to your existing content is one way to provide value. Regularly engaging with your community is another.

When members sense that you no longer care about the quality of your website and that whatever you’re offering is no longer helpful to them, they will leave. Never let that happen.

Related readings:
How To Increase Membership Signups To Your Site
The Membership Retention Strategy That Will Make Your Members Stay

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Final Thoughts

If you read this from top to bottom in one go, congratulations! That was plenty of information to digest. If it took you a few readings, that’s perfectly all right too.

Here’s an overview of the membership site masterplan once more:

Membership Site Masterplan

 

I do have a couple of reminders before you go off and build your membership site.

Be in it for the long haul.

Running a membership site is NOT a get-rich-quick scheme.

And if anybody tries to tell you different, run away. As fast as you can.

As you should’ve seen by now, just planning it is an enormous task in itself. It takes months of creating and organizing content, promoting and tweaking your site, and helping and engaging your community before you see a steady stream of income from it.

So don’t despair if you’ve been at it for a while and you still haven’t reached a five-figure-a-month profit from your membership site. Plod on and keep hustling; you’ll get there.

Adapt and evolve based on your members’ needs.

People’s needs change over time, and what your members might find valuable today may not be so valuable to them tomorrow, or next week, or next month.

Be ready to change your content offerings and update, change, or delete website features altogether over time. It may happen that your website now may not be recognizable in a year, and that’s okay. As long as you meet your members’ needs, change is good.

house painter painting the side of a blue house gray

Over To You

Have you considered or are you considering building a membership site? Did this masterplan help? Or are there any other aspects of creating a membership site that you wish were included here? Talk to me in the comments!

The Membership Site Masterplan Series

For easy reference, here are the 6 articles in this membership site masterplan series. There are PLENTY of processes, tips, and techniques in these articles, and frankly, it’s too much for one sitting.

I suggest going over them in order on your own pace. You might want to bookmark this post right now so you have a reference point for everything.

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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