Once you’ve decided that building a membership site is for you, the next thing you need to decide is what type of membership site to build. In today’s article, I outline the process of choosing and validating your membership site ideas. Finally, I list down profitable membership site ideas to inspire you.
So you’ve decided to create a membership site.
Hooray for you! A membership site is a great way to earn recurring income.
But the next question is, “what type of membership site should I create?”
Today’s blog post will take you through how to come up with an idea and how to check if it’s going to work. I also list down some profitable membership site ideas to inspire you and get you pumped up to create your membership site.
Your membership site should revolve around one central idea: solving your members’ problems.
You’ll need to have a profound understanding of the problems and challenges that your members struggle with and then provide them with a practical solution. Whether it’s to help them learn new skills, or do tasks easier, or connect with other people with the same difficulties, figure out their needs and create ways to fill those needs.
If you’re already blogging for a while in a particular niche, then you have the advantage of having at least some awareness of the problems that your readers and subscribers are struggling with.
But if you’re not a blogger and want to jump right in to building a membership site, that’s just fine, too.
Here are some preliminary questions to ask yourself when you’re brainstorming ideas:
List down as many ideas as you can, no matter how outlandish or weird or ridiculous it looks like.
You can also use keyword research to find out what words and phrases your target audience are likely to input in their search query. Read this article to know the basic steps (this was written with blog posts in mind, but you can follow the same steps).
When you have a list of ideas, you can narrow them down further by asking another set of questions:
By now, your list should only be around 2 or 3 ideas.
Focus these ideas as much as you can. If you’re left with a few ideas that are related, try to see if you can merge them. The ideal topic is a very specific one.
For example, instead of saying “I want to teach bloggers about marketing strategies,” you can narrow this down further and say “I want to teach food bloggers about email marketing strategies.”
Whatever idea you’re left with, remember that it should have these three attributes: something you’re passionate about, something you’re knowledgable about, and something that has an audience that will pay for it.
One of the biggest missteps in launching your membership site is to rush headlong with your idea without validating it. Chances are you’ll end up investing too much time and money implementing an idea that turns out to be a bust.
You need to know if your idea will work before you start creating your membership site. Here are the steps you need to take to validate your idea.
1. Market research. Find out if there are other products, services, or membership sites (gasp!) that addresses the problem you’ve listed down when you were brainstorming.
If there are, take it as a good sign that there’s a demand to solve that problem. Don’t be intimidated by competition; get a good idea of what’s working and what’s not, and assess if maybe you can do better or offer something different.
2. Create your minimum viable product (MVP). Confirm that there really is a demand for your idea and save yourself wasted time and effort by creating a smaller version of the membership site idea you had in mind, sometimes called an MVP.
An MVP isn’t an incomplete product; it’s completely viable but at a fraction of the scale of the membership site you’re aiming to create.
For example, if you’re planning to launch a membership site for an online course to teach photography, you can create a 10- to 20-minute video teaching a certain technique as your MVP.
Or if you’re planning to set up a community-based site for crafters in your area, create a private Facebook group.
3. Offer your MVP and see how it does. A good way to evaluate how your minimum viable product is received is by creating a landing page for it that has analytics built in it, and then promoting your landing page.
Promote the landing page on your blog, if you have one. If not, you can always promote on social media, or you can take out Google ads (make sure you don’t blow your budget on ads).
Collect their email addresses and make it explicit that these are only going to be used to deliver the MVP or to add them to the Facebook group, and also for feedback purposes.
Study analytics from the landing page and see how many actually downloaded or joined versus those who saw the landing page.
Ask feedback from those who signed up for your MVP and maybe offer an incentive for filling out a feedback form. Learn from the feedback you gather and use it to improve your MVP.
4. Rinse and repeat till you’re confident it’ll work. If it pans out the first time, then good for you! You’re ready for the next step. If not, then it’s time to fine-tune your ideas, tinker with your MVP, and just keep at it until you’re convinced that your MVP will work.
If you’ve done numerous cycles of this and the demand still doesn’t look promising, that’s okay. It just means you’ll have to brainstorm ideas again and validate it again, and it sounds tedious but it’s part of the process.
The point of MVP is to allow you to test out different ideas without risking too much.
Remember: at least you didn’t launch yet. Imagine if it failed not only as an MVP but as an actual, live membership site. Think of the lost time and effort and money trying to make that happen.
Now that you know how to brainstorm concepts and validate them, I’m going to list down some profitable membership site ideas to get those gears in your head turning.
You can offer online courses through a membership site, with your educational content in a restricted area that’s only accessible to paying members.
Online courses are common because they’re in demand in almost every niche. Think of a random thing that can be taught, and chances are there’s already an online course for it. Plus, you can tailor online courses so that the content, mode of delivery, and frequency of payment fits exactly with the subject matter and your target audience.
For example, you can create a massive online course, upload everything, and then charge a monthly fee for access to the material. Once they’re done with the material (anywhere from 1 month to 6 or even 12 months), students can then cancel their membership.
You can also apply a fixed-term model; students pay upfront for a number of months to access the content and then the membership is automatically canceled after the fixed period.
If you want long-term members, you can drip feed new content every month so students tend to stay members on your site for a long time.
You can also include a message board for students to interact with each other and share notes, resources, or inspiration.
By far, the most popular format of online courses is video, but you can include any form of related content: ebooks, checklists, worksheets, even self-assessment tests.
If you have the time and inclination, you can also offer a higher membership tier (with a higher membership fee) with perks such as a dedicated support line/email, additional guidance, and one-on-one mentoring or coaching sessions.
Notable example: Lynda.com
If your niche is an entire industry, or you want to cater to a large target audience, you can set up a library of premium resources, such as published ebooks, industry reports from prominent research companies, expert interviews, and more.
A drip-fed model is the best fit for this type of membership site, as members want a constantly updated resource site.
You can even add a VIP membership tier, whose members have special privileges like being able to upload their own content and access to even more premium content, or a one-on-one Q&A session with an industry expert.
As with other types of membership sites, you can set up a member forum for members to discuss and compare notes about certain materials.
You can run a community-based membership site based on getting hired in jobs in a certain industry or niche, as well as doing those jobs well. Your membership site can be the link to both companies looking for employees and applicants looking for jobs.
Aside from the job board, you can also host forums for your members to interact and exchange useful industry information. You can also have resources on how to do these jobs better and how to be the perfect candidate for a certain position.
In addition, you can also provide a frequently updated directory listing for companies, training facilities, associations, and other relevant industry organizations.
Notable example: The Freelance Writers Den
I know it sounds a bit like high school (“drama club,” “chess club”), but establishing a membership site for genuine enthusiasts in your niche can be a thriving site with a potential profit.
You can provide training and resources for beginners, the latest news and buzz surrounding the niche, and a forum for these enthusiasts to get into educational and productive discussions.
As this is another community-driven site, you can also promote some of your members to forum moderators instead of taking on everything yourself or delegating to third parties. As a result, your members have the impression that you trust members enough for them to do this job, which in turn increases their trust in you.
The difficult thing here is to make sure that everyone (or at least the majority) is participating and contributing consistently so that everyone gets value from the membership.
To do this, set up forums and subforums that promote regular interaction, such as progress logs (where everyone checks in and provides a progress report on a goal), daily inspiration, or just a free space where everyone can say what they want
Notable example: Quiet Speculation
Before you laugh, just know this: more than 600,000 eHarmony couples have gotten married, and as of 2017, eHarmony had 750,000 paying members (source).
Online dating is damn hard, and so this is where you and your membership site come in.
The key here is not to become the next eHarmony; it’s going to be an uphill battle if you want to work to compete with them. The key to be successful in an already crowded industry is to be extremely specific with the members you’re accepting.
Narrow down your ideal member considerably. You can do this by religion, specific hobbies, or other affinities and interests they may have. For example, you can have a site where you only have Catholics qualified as members. Or you can have a dating site especially for gamers, or more specifically, players of a certain game. The possibilities are endless.
Notable example: eHarmony
Sometimes, the best way to get ideas for your own membership site is to get inspiration from others. Here are some profitable membership site ideas that can get you inspired to get started:
Do you have more membership site ideas that can be lucrative? Or are you already running one that’s not in any of these categories? Talk to me in the comments!
This is the 2nd 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.