Yay, you’re ready to build (or thinking about building) your first membership website! So you set out to find the best membership site ideas to get you going…
Seriously, how exciting. And a bit overwhelming, right?
There are so many little pieces that are meant to fit together, to make your membership site spectacular. There’s the design and the course content, and then the tech setup like subscriptions, logins, drip feeding, and payment gateways.
To help eliminate the overwhelm and streamline your course creation process, we came up with a list of 25 profitable ideas to think about as you set out to create a subscription or membership course site.
Table of Contents
- The Initial Membership Site Setup
- 1. Free vs. Paid Memberships
- 2. One-time Purchase vs. Ongoing Subscriptions
- 3. Membership Site Location
- 4. Payments Processing
- 5. Membership Branding & Website Design
- 6. One Course vs. Multiple Courses
- 7. Affiliate Programs & Management
- 8. Website Course Materials
- 9. Big vs. Small Community
- 10. CRM Integration
- 11. Drip Fed Content vs. Full Course Access
- The Website Course Build Out
- 12. Type of Presentation Material
- 13. Professional vs. DIY Video Presentation
- 14. Fostering A Social Atmosphere
- 15. Integrating Quizzes Into Your Membership Material
- 16. Automate Encouragement for Students
- 17. Make Learning Fun Through Gamification
- 18. Provide Additional Resources For Your Students
- 19. Offer 1-1 Support And Coaching Throughout The Course
- 20. Increase Incentive With Website Currency
- Promoting Your New Membership Site
- Are You Ready to Take the Membership Plunge?
The Initial Membership Site Setup
1. Free vs. Paid Memberships
Most people turn to membership sites to create a source of recurring revenue for their business or personal life.
However, there is quite a bit of benefit connected with offering high-quality course materials for free. It’s a way to get people inside your membership site (assuming that everything is housed in the same location) and get a taste of what you’re about.
The more people fall in love with your material, the more membership sales you’ll be able to make with your paid program offerings.
2. One-time Purchase vs. Ongoing Subscriptions
Subscriptions are another big topic. Are you going to sell each course individually for a one-time fee, or will you run your membership site on a recurring subscription model?
There are pros and cons to each model, but one point to consider is whether you will be able to offer enough material to keep people around for an extended period of time.
If you’re just starting out and have only one or two courses, selling them individually might be a good idea.
If, however, you have a ton of content ready to go – or offer seasonal courses for people to take advantage of – then an ongoing membership subscription could be a great choice.
3. Membership Site Location
With the right membership site software, you can add your new venture directly to your own website. WordPress membership plugins like AccessAlly fall into this category.
Other membership platforms will require users to log into an entirely different website, which has its own set of pros and cons. The nice thing is that they’ll usually take a shorter amount of time to set up because the platform has done a lot of the work for you.
The cons of using a separate system for your membership site include:
- Having to point users to a different URL than your own site
- A lack of customization control, so it might not be able to look exactly like you’d envisioned
- Having to rely on a separate system for your membership site’s well-being
As you think through the placement of your membership website, think about your short and long-term goals. This will help make sure you select an LMS that can grow with you and your business.
4. Payments Processing
There are a lot of payment processors and e-commerce options out there, but not all of them will integrate with your new membership site.
Keep in mind that some payment processors do not have the capability of storing credit card information for ongoing subscriptions and they can be really clunky on managing and adjusting subscriptions.
If you’re using a more robust CRM like Infusionsoft or Ontraport, the e-commerce tools you need are housed right inside the CRM system. This makes membership billing and recurring payments a lot easier to manage.
However, just because your CRM doesn’t include e-commerce doesn’t mean you’re out of options. This is a situation where a little research can go a long way. Make sure you review your integration options for CRM and payment processing before you make your final decision of software.
5. Membership Branding & Website Design
First impressions matter…especially when you want someone to pay for what they’re seeing.
The branding of your membership site is just as important as branding for your business. Not just because it’s professional, but because the visuals impact how your clients view you and what you’re presenting.
If you’re not quite sure how to go about it, don’t worry! There are a lot of trusted professionals with a super skill set to help you craft the right appearance and tone for your membership website.
6. One Course vs. Multiple Courses
If you’re just starting out, one course might be plenty…but as things grow, more courses will probably be in the pipeline.
If so, it’s worth considering whether you’ll offer each course as a separate program on its own unique site, or whether you are going to use the same membership site to house everything.
At AccessAlly, we opted to use our membership site to house all of our courses. Not only does this arrangement make upselling and cross-selling much easier, but it also makes setup a whole lot easier for each consecutive course that we add.
7. Affiliate Programs & Management
Affiliate programs are an excellent way to expand your reach and engage other professionals who are excited about your mission.
If you’re offering an affiliate program, there are a few things to think about:
- Do I have access to software that will take care of the technical stuff like affiliate links, tracking, and payments?
- Will this software integrate with my membership site?
- Will this affiliate software be robust enough to offer LMS reporting and help with affiliate payments?
8. Website Course Materials
It’s not enough to have a great idea, even though that’s what you need to get started!
It’s also important to know how to craft an online course that’s aligned with the psychology of learning. You have to create something your ideal clients are going to really love.
Take the time list what you want to include, then offer a sample to other people who are willing to help you out and give you some honest feedback.
It might be hard to receive criticism, but in the long run, these humbling moments will help to give you a clearer idea of how other people are going to view your membership site offer.
9. Big vs. Small Community
This is a big consideration and something to think about as you brainstorm your future membership site.
When we first started out, we picked a really nice membership site platform that worked “just fine” for awhile. Then we launched the 30 Day List Building Challenge that took off and totally overwhelmed our website.
With massive amounts of traffic, the site was overloaded and went down pretty often. Such a hassle and such a disappointment to our website visitors.
Of course, this led us to moving to a higher quality hosting provider and we developed our own WordPress membership site feature set that’s totally exceeded even our vision for it.
The moral of the story: Some membership website hosting will support more traffic than others. It’s up to you whether you want to start small and upgrade when the numbers grow, or whether you’d prefer to start out with a more robust platform that can handle whatever you throw at it from the get-go.
10. CRM Integration
Email marketing, CRM systems (customer relationship management), and membership sites go hand-in-hand.
After all, wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to automate certain email sequences depending on who’s bought which course and be able to automatically remove them if they cancel their subscription?
That’s why we love integrating to Infusionsoft. Ontraport and ActiveCampaign are also super good options (you can compare ActiveCampaign vs. Ontraport, especially if you’re looking into using AccessAlly to build your membership site.
Some email marketing platforms simply aren’t designed to do much more than send emails to a single list, making it important that you consider whether yours is going to support your need for a more complex list segmentation as your membership site grows.
11. Drip Fed Content vs. Full Course Access
When someone purchases access to an online course, you might choose to let them see all the course material instantly.
Or, to prevent information overload (and overwhelm), you might decide to use the drip feed method of delivering content. Drip fed content is released gradually over a period of time.
If you’re using the AccessAlly Pro plugin, you can craft a program that will only release Module 2 in your course after Module 1 has been completed. This method will give the student the ability to move through the course at his or her own pace, instead of rushing them along (or holding them back).
The Website Course Build Out
12. Type of Presentation Material
There are so many ways to teach in an online course! Videos, audio tracks, text, and quizzes are a few of the more popular options available.
It’s important to think through your target market and what you think their learning style might be. You should also consider the type of information you are going to deliver. For example, a cooking course would lend itself well to simple audio tracks, but it would be great for video demonstrations and written recipes.
Although offering a variety of media will really help your students to stay engaged, it is a good idea to rely on one media as your main mode of presentation, and use other media types as supplements.
13. Professional vs. DIY Video Presentation
Speaking of media presentation, video courses are so powerful when it comes to delivering your own, unique message to your students.
Of course, you don’t have to dish out thousands of dollars and pay for an entire movie crew to film your video courses. While you can, you simply don’t need to go to that extreme. However, it should look professional enough to translate “quality” to the students who have invested money into your course.
Realistically, all you need to get started is a good video camera, microphone, and someone willing to help you edit the video if you’re not sure how to do it yourself.
14. Fostering A Social Atmosphere
Even the most introverted of us are excited when we find out that we’re not alone in this thing called Life.
So one way to enhance the level of investment that your students make in your membership site is by establishing a social atmosphere for them to take advantage of.
You could do this by forming a private Facebook group for your membership site members, or you could add a membership site forum with a WordPress plugin like BBPress.
How We Did It: In our Heartquarters membership site, we used the member directory feature in AccessAlly to allow our members to connect with and support each other throughout the learning process. When combined with our private Facebook community, it’s ended up being a pretty powerful setup.
15. Integrating Quizzes Into Your Membership Material
In an online setting, it can be challenging to know whether you’ve really grasped the material or not.
That’s one reason why incorporating graded quizzes is such a strong addition to your membership site course material.
With a tool like AccessAlly Pro, you even have the option of requiring students to receive a passing grade on their test before allowing them to continue on through the rest of the course.
16. Automate Encouragement for Students
Procrastination is no joke.
Unfortunately, students who procrastinate and fail to put the effort into learning your course material (indefinitely) can really impact the effectiveness of your membership site.
Not only do you lose out on a success story (they can’t benefit from your wisdom if they’re not studying the material), but you also lose out on the possibility of referrals from them.
17. Make Learning Fun Through Gamification
If online courses were only composed of lengthy text articles, it’s really doubtful that anyone would want to invest in them in the first place.
After all, that’s what books are for!
Instead, begin by offering a variety of media to present your course material, then bring in powerful online learning tools like LMS gamification to kick everything into a high impact learning extravaganza.
Some common gamification features include:
- Progress Tracking – so your students can tell how far they’ve made it through the course
- Personality or Graded Quizzes – to help your students know what’s important to learn…and whether they’ve mastered the material yet
- Points or Insite Currency – to offer as incentives for students who complete course objectives
18. Provide Additional Resources For Your Students
Have you ever finished a course or an article only to stop and ask yourself “Well, what next?”
It’s empowering to provide your students with materials or links to materials that will take them to the next level.
For hands-on learning (like underwater photography), this might come in the form of a printable checklist or cheatsheet. In other circumstances, students might appreciate additional learning recommendations like a book, a blog series, or even another course.
But by pointing your students in the right direction, you give them the ability to keep on growing even after they’ve mastered your online course material.
19. Offer 1-1 Support And Coaching Throughout The Course
There is no substitute for a 1-1 learning environment. Of course, creating a membership site that houses dozens or thousands of online participants makes 1-1 coaching nearly impossible. Although you can use your membership site to create a coaching portal within your membership site for 1-1 coaching clients.
One way we’ve been able to work around this is by providing quarterly coaching calls, where individual members can log in and chat with us live about their questions. Think “webinar” format, but with a Q&A format and a coaching emphasis.
We also recently added a “Private Notes” feature in our AccessAlly Pro plugin that allows members to ask pertinent questions about the material within the course page itself. This sends the admin a notification, so they know which member is asking the question, and what page they were on when they wrote it down.
And then, of course, with our private Facebook group, members can easily ask questions and get the answers they need.
20. Increase Incentive With Website Currency
Speaking of gamification, in-site currency is seriously underrated in the world of e-learning even though gamers have sworn by it for decades!
You can use it to award bonuses and points to students after they’ve achieved goals in your membership site, or award them a certain amount after each recurring membership payment.
It’s an awesome way to provide incentive and motivation with a single strategy.
Promoting Your New Membership Site
Presumably, at this point, you have the entire site logistics planned out, along with the first couple of “core” courses that will provide you with a foundation on which to build. Now – let’s get the word out there!
21. Paid vs. Free Advertising
Perhaps the two most popular paid advertising platforms among entrepreneurs are Facebook and Google Ads. But really, there are so many paid advertising platforms for you to take advantage of these days.
Even though paid ads can help you get to new audiences fairly quickly, free advertising (aka that trusty thing called “marketing”) might still bring in the bulk of your new course clients.
Content marketing and SEO are two free ways to market your courses, memberships, and other offers to the entire world. And better yet, they don’t exist for just a short moment in time like an ad does. Content marketing and SEO live on for years. They make a great way to bring in website visitors and convert those visitors into subscription sales.
22. Prime Your Email List
If you’ve done your due diligence, your email list is all ready to go.
If you’re not quite there yet, our free 30 Day List Building Challenge is calling your name.
Craft a few emails to tell your tribe about your latest project, as well as outlining some of the reasons why they might want to check it out.
Depending on how your site is set up, it might also make sense to offer a low-priced “trial,” so they can check it out for a week or two, and decide later whether to stay on or back out.
We’ve written a lot about the power of email marketing in the past. You can read some excellent articles to learn more. Visit The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing Automation, How To Build a Large Email List from Scratch Using Content Marketing, or Examples of Email Sequences That Sell to learn more about email marketing.
23. Offer a Webinar To Sell Your New Course
Webinars are a great way to get people excited about your new membership site.
They’re also perfectly poised to convert interested people into paying clients: you present something of value to the attendees that they can take with them for free, then offer even more treasure inside your paid offer.
The good news is that webinars don’t have to be sleazy. In fact, they don’t work when you go that route anyway!
Just be yourself and be willing to put yourself out there. You can do it!
Reach out to your peers and other influencers within your industry to announce the good news of your new membership site launch. If you’re connected with a lot of professionals, it’s likely that they’ve been through launches before and will be happy to help you out by announcing the new launch to their email list or social media following.
Make it a sweet deal for them by offering to enroll them in your affiliate program (if you have one), so that they can reap the benefits if any of their followers sign up for your program.
25. Be Available To Answer Questions
As you’re launching your new membership site, carve out time to simply being there and answering any questions that come in from your future community members.
Realistically, it doesn’t matter how clear your copy is or how many details you included in the sales page…people will have questions.
The quicker you can answer those questions, the better chance you have of making that sale.
Are You Ready to Take the Membership Plunge?
We’ve listed out the top 25 membership site ideas and elements we think you need to think through in creating your new course website. We hope the insights have helped energize you and get you motivated to dive into this fun world of subscription sites.
If you need even more inspiration, check out our articles on Membership Site Examples: Inspiration For Your Members Area or 7 Proven Membership Site Models to get even more great ideas.