When I launched my first membership site back in 2011, I generated $117,000 in 7 days. It was mind blowing!
It continued to grow and generate recurring monthly incomes for years after, although I did make a few glaring mistakes which I’ll be sure to point out as I guide you through the steps to take to create your own 6 figure membership site.
The Easy Way to Create a Membership Site
These days with the advancement of technology it’s far easier to create and set up a membership site than it was when I got started!
Back in those days the leader was a high tech custom membership platform called Membergate, (which is still going today and looks as though it may have had a bit of an overhaul).
It was pretty clunky in the early days but then so was the ability to upload videos to the web, build landing pages, set up email funnels, and so on.
Oh, how times have changed!
Yes, you can make it as complex as you like, with built-in forums, badges, ladders of success, etc. Or you can simply create bundles of courses in your custom-built course platform of choice (I’ll go into these in more detail later in the post) and charge a monthly fee to access them.
You can easily add a private Facebook group as your forum which can only be accessed while someone is a member of your program.
In fact if you have a couple of video courses you have already created you could set up and launch a membership site today!
Types of Membership Sites
There are multiple ways to set up your membership site.
Here are the 3 most popular models;
1. A free membership site
This is a great way to build a community and an email list at the same time. In my post How to Create a Lead Generating Offer I talk about all the different ways you can generate leads to your business including having your mini video course or audio courses behind a members area.
Instead of charging members, you use your site to build authority and monetize in other ways.
He has affiliate links to products he recommends inside the members’ area, sells a higher level mastermind course, runs conferences, and speaks all over the world.
His members’ area is free but because of the sheer amount of value he’s offering he’s built his list, his authority and monetizes via affiliations, partnerships, and higher-level trainings.
Love this quote;
2. Paid Monthly Membership sites
This is the most common type of membership site. Usually made up of courses, checklists, masterclasses, live training, a community & these days some kind of live or virtual event.
Chris Duckers Youpreneur Academy is a great example of a membership site that has all this and more!
3. Facebook Group Membership.
Traditionally FB Groups are free or attached to a paid course or members area.
However, what if you created an entire membership within a Facebook group and charged to join?
Last year when I was having a bit of a mid-life crisis and unsure which direction to go in, I joined a swing trading group for $25 / month which was entirely hosted within a Facebook group. All the videos, live training, training units, documents, and the active community all in one place.
Super easy to set up and get off the ground I would say!
What Kind of Content Should I Serve Inside My Membership Site?
In Your Content Plan, I go through an entire strategy on coming up with content ideas for your free content. You can use exactly the same strategies for coming up with your paid content so do be sure to check out that post to create an entire list and plan of content ideas.
Also in How to Create Your Lead Generating Offer, I walk through how to script and record content, create and upload ebooks, checklists, PDF’s, etc, so if you’re unsure how to present your content together this post is for you!
Here’s a great article from the chaps over at The Membership Guys on 12 Types of Content To Include In Your Membership Site.
Here are a few of their suggestions that you should consider alongside standard video courses;
- Live Webinars
- Mastermind Calls
- Content Archives – people can catch up on Lives or watch them again
- Community forum (or FB Group) to build the tribe
- Exclusive Downloads
- Discounts and unique member offers
- How-to’s or mini-courses
- Cheat sheets and checklists
- Expert guest appearances and interviews
- Industry news and views
You need to keep things fresh and, above all, authentic and valuable to your audience.
Carrie Green, founder of the Female Entrepreneur Association, an online platform dedicated to inspiring women to build wildly successful businesses, has loads of helpful ‘how-to’ videos on her YouTube channel (don’t worry gents, her advice applies to you too). Her video How To Create Content For Your Membership Site advises on planning your content calendar and sticking to a schedule that’s right for you.
Many years ago I was part of a membership site that offered a webinar every 2 weeks. Sometimes from the course creator himself but more often than not guests and other presenters.
The information however was absolutely top-notch and extremely actionable, so well worth the investment.
Don’t think you have to have everything bar the kitchen sink in your members’ area. The most important elements of your site are;
- Are your members getting results?
- Do they feel they’re getting value (much of which comes from a community).
- Do they feel they’re part of a community?
- Are they getting something here they can’t get anywhere else? (Many times that’s some kind of access to you)
Experiment with what works for you and your audience and deliver value, but don’t spread yourself too thin.
How Do I Deliver My Content in the Site?
There are really two main ways to deliver your content to your members;
- All at once
All at Once
If you have a lot of content, maybe you’re packaging up courses you’ve previously sold separately, or you have hundreds of videos or ebooks you’ve created over the years, you may decide to lay it all out for instant access as soon as members join.
Benefits of this model are:
- Members can see the value that they’re getting straight away
- Gives you more flexibility to market your site, i.e., if somebody only wants one or two of the courses they might still join if the price is reasonable
- You can teach in bite-size chunks, and members can work through content at their own pace
The downside of making all your content available in one go is that it can cause overwhelm and analysis paralysis when members first join if they’re not well supported.
This is the term used for releasing your content over a particular time period.
You upload a new piece of content, a lesson, video, interview, or whatever you have planned on a regular basis. The idea of delivering information this way is that it helps members stay engaged and continue logging in to your site. The timeframe you use for releasing your content is called a drip schedule.
Key benefits of setting your site up this way are:
- It helps create a community of members who are all working on the same ‘lessons.’
- You can ensure you are providing valuable content that follows a pathway to a defined goal
- You keep your site fresh with constant new content
- You reduce people joining your website, downloading all your content then cancelling
- You reduce your cancellation rates by keeping people interested
- You create buzz around content release dates
How to Create my Membership Site
While I’m sure there are multiple options for creating your membership site, broadly it falls into two categories;
- A WordPress site with a membership plugin
- A plug & play hosted membership platform
As I said in the introduction when I built The Social Networking Academy I used an extremely complex (and expensive) piece of software called Membergate (trip down memory lane anyone).
Later I moved to WordPress with a plugin called Optimise Press which was fab in its day.
Nowadays I would most definitely use something like Teachable, Thinkific, or Podia as they’ve built in all the features I need to host an online course or membership model meaning I can focus on content & customers rather than messing around with any tech.
Here is a great article walking you through the 7 Best Membership Site Platforms (for 2020)
And from our friends over at WPBeginner.com a comparison of the 5 Best WordPress Membership Plugins 2020.
Here’s a fab step by step tutorial from the awesome Gillian Perkins on how to create your course using Teachable;
Structure and Pricing
Ok so lastly you need to decide how much you’re going to charge!
Sean Jackson’s article for Copyblogger sets out very clear guidelines on how you can decide the pricing plan for your membership site, The Smart and Simple Framework for Finding the Right Pricing Model for Your Membership Site.
They make the critical point that you are in control of your pricing! There is no standard model you have to stick to, and you make the choices according to your product and your market, so do what works for you.
Here’s a handy slide deck summarising his main points;
And here’s the awesome Carrie Green again with her tips on how to price your membership site;
You’re also going to want to decide whether you want to offer membership tiers or a single price for full access.
A membership tier is basically where you offer different packages at different price points;
Personally, if this is your first foray into setting up and running a membership site, then you will probably find it easier to keep it simple and just go with one membership level initially. You can always evolve into a multi-tiered membership group later down the road.
What Kind of Payment Plan Should You Offer?
You’ll need to decide what kind of payment plans you’ll be offering.
The most common as we saw from Chris Duckers’ example above is a monthly payment with an annual option.
But you may decide as I have done in the past to offer a once-off, all in lifetime option.
Please resist this temptation!
Unless you are absolutely certain you will be running your site for the rest of your life or can word it in such a way it simply means the lifetime of the site whatever that may be, it will come back to bite you in the backside.
Best to stick with monthly & annual options.
When I launched my site it sold for $197. The offer was lifetime access. In 2015 some 5 years later when I overhauled the site, updated all the training and relaunched, true to my word I Grandfathered all the original members into the new site. By 2017, I decided to move on from this original site and did no further updates, although have ensured all the training remains available to all members. In 2018 I received a blistering complaint that I hadn’t kept up my end of the bargain by offering lifetime training in the site.
I’m certainly not blaming anyone but myself for my original wording. But if you say Lifetime, you better mean Lifetime!
The Difference Between a Membership Site and a Stand Alone Video Course
In my post How to Create a 6 Fig Online Course I go through the steps to take to build an online course from scratch.
And to be honest with you there’s not a massive amount of difference.
They’re both primarily made up of video content, supplemented with PDF’s and worksheets if required.
They’re both created to educate and give customers transformative experiences.
They can both lead quickly to 6 figure incomes.
The primary difference is that a stand-alone course is primarily a one time only deal. Your customer buys your course on how to grow and nurture a herb garden and had access to everything included in that one course and no more. You may choose to include necessary updates or add on modules if you’re someone who offers awesome value, but primarily it’s a one time purchase for a one time promise!
The upside for the customer is that once they’ve bought the course it’s theirs unless they refund. They can consume at their leisure.
If a customer joins your gardening membership site, though, they would pay a monthly membership fee, and in return, would have access to the herb garden course, plus a variety of new content on an ongoing basis. As long as their membership is active and they pay their subscription, they continue to have access to all your courses, videos, articles, live-training, Q & A sessions, group coaching, or whatever extra content you choose to provide in that membership group such as a Facebook group, etc.
The downside for the customer is that once they stop paying their monthly fee, that’s it, no more access.
And that’s the difference.
The Benefits of Creating a Membership Site
In a nutshell, to run a successful membership group, you must deliver ongoing valuable content that keeps members interested, which sounds like a lot of work, and it can be depending on how you approach it (we’ll look at how to deliver content a bit further down).
However, the benefits of having a membership site are not only the community you cultivate but also that it’s one single place where you can put all your best content and courses only ever selling access to one thing, your membership site.
You’re not having to do multiple launches with different courses, lots of different sales funnels and pages, etc. You are constantly selling and driving your audience to just one thing, giving you time and feedback to tweak & improve as you go.
Why Should I Set Up a Membership Site?
A membership site can give you a high return on your time and effort as once you set it up it will provide you with regular, recurring income that you can count on month after month.
Do remember, though, that you will have to be present in the group, and you will have to provide regular new content or features, you can’t put cruise control on and just drift!
Using the above examples Nurture to Convert is $47 / month. Digital Marketers Lab is $95 / month after the free trial and Brooke Castillo The Life Coach School Scholars Program is $297 / month!
(Please note none of these links are affiliate links, just using them as examples).
Start by identifying your ‘ideal lifestyle budget’ by doing my planning for profit exercise here.
When you know how much you want to generate each month you can calculate how many members you need on a monthly basis.
Let’s say your number is $3000 / month;
At $47 / month you’ll need 64 members a month – $47 * 64 = $3008
At $95 / month you’ll need 32 members a month – $95 * 32 = $3040
At $297 / month you’ll need 10 members a month – $297 * 10 = $2970
Having recurring payments every month certainly gives you an element of stability with your income although you of course need to work hard to both keep the members you have and consistently attract new ones to keep the level of income up and grow it.
Provide Up-To-Date Content
With a membership site, you’re not only showcasing your expertise, but you are giving your community a considerable amount of value by providing them with constant, up to date information.
You can pack your membership site with really valuable content that educates and guides your community, which not adds massive value, but also helps you gain credibility as an authority in your niche. This could make you more visible if, later on, you decide that you want to write a book, or become a professional speaker for example.
Create an Engaged Community
My favourite thing about a membership site is the fact you’re creating a community and giving people a place to connect with other like-minded folks all supporting each other on similar journeys.
The friendships that I have watched develop through my membership sites over the years have stood the test of time! There have been meetups the world over between members of my communities and it’s a wonderful feeling to know you brought these people together.
The most important thing is to be always adding value to your group, not only with fab content but also by letting your members know that you’re listening and that you’ll go the extra mile to help them out. Your members will feel valued if you over-deliver with support and information and will then go out and spread the word about how great you are all over their networks.
A membership site can be a lot of work, especially if you’re the kind of person who needs to overdeliver to prove your value like yours truly!
You’ll find yourself buried under new modules, new content, and new courses all the time instead of out promoting your content and your brand if you’re not careful.
But well structured, well prepared, and well managed preferably by a team, it can be a hugely beneficial part of your online empire both for you and for the people you’re serving.
If you’d like to dig deeper into this model, here are some fantastic additional resources to help you on your journey;
The Ultimate Guide to Launching a Membership Site!
Pros and Cons of Online Membership Platforms
10 Tips to Create and Run a Successful Membership Site on Teachable
Should Your Membership Offer Multiple Different Levels?
7 Membership Sites that Make $100K+ Per Year
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Thanks for reading!