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Why Offering a Free Course Inside Your Membership Site Is Worth The Effort (And Extremely Profitable)

Wondering how to build a profitable membership site from the get go?

Maybe this sounds familiar…

Your membership site starts off with a powerful launch that brings in some paying members…

Welcome to the membership marketing hamster wheel.

Some of your membership site subscribers are lost to cancellations…

But maybe you gain another few through a second marketing campaign… Oh wait, you’re back to filling your membership with content and keeping members on board longer.

After a while, it might feel like the membership site is taking more of a toll on your health and sanity than it’s worth.

Fortunately, there’s a simple method you can use to free yourself up, let go, and let your membership site sell itself.

How to Build a Profitable Membership Site With a Free Course

Yes, you read that correctly: creating a free course inside our membership site is one way to make more sales.

The only thing asked in exchange is a first name and an email address.

After that, they’re able to come and go from the membership site to access their free course as they please.

how to build a profitable membership site

It sounds crazy… but offering that free course can be the key that takes you off that hamster wheel of anxiety.

Why You Might Be Resistant To Creating a Free Course

Before I explain how to create a free course for your membership site to bring in revenue, it’s worth talking about some of the main objections against this strategy:

Objection 1: It’s Too Much Work To Create And Maintain An Entirely Separate Membership Tier

Just this past week I was chatting with a membership site enthusiast who was adamant that creating a free membership site tier was foolish.

“Why create a free membership site tier when you can give your free material away in your email newsletter?”

He had me there.

But my question for him was: “Why are you still using membership site tiers?”

Our Response: Use the flexibility of tag-based membership software

how to build a profitable membership site The old model of membership site did, indeed, use tiers. They were built with the same mentality as your credit card companies use to bribe you to spend more. (“When you pay XX each month, you can be a GOLD STANDARD member.“)

Technology, though, has improved in the past few years to be much less clunky and more user-friendly. Tag-based membership sites (the ones that use the same automation tags as CRMs like Drip, ActiveCampaign, etc.) are taking over the market.

It’s easy to see why.

With a tag-based membership site plugin like AccessAlly, you can create permission tags that are unique to each course. This allows you to sell access to courses individually and simply add (or subtract) the permission tags through your email marketing system automation sequences.

Worrying about how to move a member to a different tier is a thing of the past.

Objection 2: It Costs As Much To Create a Free Course As It Does A Paid One

This is a fact.

We treat our free courses (and eBooks) with the same care and attention as we would a paid course. Professional videos, hours spent writing, editing, and revising content, professional branding, etc. From a quality perspective, it’s indistinguishable from our paid products.

Our Response: The initial expense can easily be justified with a stellar ROI

how to build a profitable membership site Yes, you might spend a few hundred dollars creating a free course… but if you gain all that back and then some from your new subscribers, who cares?

Here’s the caveat: you have to be serious about your initial investment.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to empty the bank to create your free course.

However, the quality of content within the free course is exactly why it might become the most profitable project of your online business.

Plus, when someone gets so much value out of your free course they can’t help but wonder how amazing your paid courses will be too… So that increases your cross-selling and conversions.

Objection 3: Giving Away Your Best Work For Free Is Stupid

There are a lot of people who emphatically believe that your best efforts should have a corresponding price tag attached to it.

Our Response: Giving Away Your Best Work Is Generous AND Profitable

At AccessAlly, we believe that a business only thrives when it truly cares about the person on the other end. When it stops looking at the client as another number and starts looking at them as a human being who is looking for meaning and value in life.

It doesn’t matter what your niche is, or whether the products you offer are a necessity or a commodity.

Any products you sell will impact the life of your client.

In other words, when we stop thinking about how much we’re gonna get and are equally concerned with how much we’re giving away, the magic starts working.

And That’s When Your Membership Site Starts To Flourish

When you’re willing to give away something of value for free – no strings attached – you can bet the recipient will start looking at you in a different light.

And, as an ambitious entrepreneur, you can be strategic with the results.

Free courses are no different than any other business investment. If you’re going to spend hours and resources creating them, you have to have a plan to monetize it.

Now let’s get to the numbers: Does being generous with a free course bring in revenue?


You Might Change Your Mind About What Features You Want, so You Need a Platform That’s Flexible.

Get your own free demo sandbox account so you can experience the flexibility AccessAlly has to offer.

Computer screen with 3 people looking pensiveSee it in action

Case Study: The 30 Day List Building Challenge

Our 30 Day List Building Challenge is 100% free. The only thing we ask of our users is a name and an email address. From there, they receive access to the course inside our membership site.

The Challenge includes:

  • 30 days of professionally-filmed training videos
  • Downloadable worksheets
  • Access to our list building Facebook group
  • Step-by-step guidance
  • A list of resources along the way to help them connect with the tools they need to make it happen

how to build a profitable membership site

We pulled out all the stops on this one.

Effects of the Free 30 Day List Building Challenge: Increased Visibility and Revenue

Offering a robust, 30-day course for free has been an amazing decision for our company on all fronts.

Benefit #1: Email List Abundance

In the past year alone, our email list grew by 11,111 ambitious individuals who signed up for the Challenge, with very little in advertising at all.

Benefit #2: Increased Visibility Across All Platforms

Inside each “day” of the Challenge is a set of social sharing buttons. As momentum builds throughout the course, ambitious list-builders readily hit “share”… which means that our visibility with new audiences continues to increase.

free course

Benefit #3: Increased Revenue from Fast Track Upsells

The 30 Day List Building Challenge was originally created to drip-release on a daily basis. If subscribers want to access all 30 days at once (the “Fast Track”), they’re asked to pay $27 for it.

A small sum… which generated $11,934 worth of revenue in the past year.

Benefit #4: Increased Revenue for our Other Products

We currently offer paid products: the PopupAlly Pro plugin and the AccessAlly membership site plugin.

People who signed up for the 30 Day List Building Challenge and have purchased products from us in the last year brought in over $170K in revenue.

Not too bad, for a free course.

Learn How to Build a Profitable Membership Site Using A Free Course

At this point, the numbers confirm that yes, offering a free course inside your membership site can be extremely profitable.

All you have to do is implement it with a winning strategy so that the membership site starts selling itself.

Tools You Need to Build A Profitable Membership Site:

It’s pretty simple: all you need is:

  • A good course that attracts the right audience
  • A membership site to house it all
  • A tag-based CRM to power the automation

Steps To Make Your Free Course A Money-Making Generosity Machine

Create a Free Course That’s Extremely Valuable and Leads To Your Paid Offerings

First thing’s first: the free course inside your membership site has to be extremely strategic for your business. It’s purpose is to win people over with your expertise AND attract the right people.

When creating the course, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it a topic that will attract your ideal clientele?
  • Does it serve as an “introduction” to another paid product or course?
  • Do you give valuable, juicy information that sets you apart as someone who knows what they’re talking about?
  • Is your membership site set up so that it naturally upsells to your other products?
  • Have you planned an email funnel that will draw your new course member deeper into your business?
  • Are your tech tools able to handle it, so you can automate the whole process, leaving it virtually hands-free after you create it?

Case in point: it’s important that anyone who participates in our free 30 Day List Building Challenge experiences their own personal benefits from the course. See how Shannon Mattern used the challenge to build a 5-figure business from scratch in 2015.

Ditch the old membership tiers and embrace modern tagging

One of the biggest philosophical differences between old school and more modern membership options is the concept of protecting content based on tags versus the old “membership levels” format.

With many older WordPress membership site options, you need to create separate membership levels and somehow try to match these up to orders in your Customer Relationship Management system.

The “levels” way of organizing courses and memberships adds an additional layer of setup because you can’t just use the tags you’re already using inside your CRM. It also makes it harder to update (and maintain) as your business grows and you continue to add more courses or “levels”.

With AccessAlly, everything is purely tag-based… which fits in perfectly with how tag-based CRMs work. It also leads to really cool automation workflows that create a very unique member experience.

Create an Enticing Dashboard Inside Your Membership Site

The user becomes more committed to seeing you as an authority. Each time they login to the membership site, they’re exposed to your cool stuff.

how to build a profitable membership site

This unique setup is part of the powerhouse strategy for building a membership site that sells itself. It’s known as the Login Optin™ Strategy… you can read more about it here: The Login Optin™ Strategy: Build Your Email List With a Free Course (or Many).

Send Subscribers Into A Carefully Planned Sales Funnel

The natural question after completing a course (free or paid) is: “now what?”

Anticipate this question with your students.

You can use the tools inside AccessAlly Pro to create a “solutions funnel” that brings your course students from one course to the next.

The Profitable Effects Of Building Your Membership Site With A Free Course

When you create a wonderful course, use it to build your email list, and send subscribers to a membership site that’s built to sell, you create a profitable membership site that can sell itself.

Here are just a few of the positive effects:

#1 Your email list is filled with more qualified subscribers

The higher level of commitment required with a free course automatically attracts a more committed subscriber. Qualified leads are more likely to go on to purchase your products and become loyal fans.

(See which CRM platforms we recommend, and how to make the most of your email list.)

#2 More media visibility

Signing up for a free course is exciting. When you experience the benefits that it promised, you’re much more likely to share it with your friends. For the course creator, this brings the benefit of more media visibility.

#3 Organic Cross-sells and Upsells

The Logged In Experience™ That Sells is created when you use an enticing dashboard format to position upsells and cross-sells for your membership site. With the right tools, it can result in a huge increase in organic sales for your online business.

Nathalie Lussier

I’m a writer, technologist, and regenerative farmer. I founded AccessAlly with my husband in one frantic weekend to solve my immediate course platform issues. Over a decade later the company has grown, and our product has evolved to serve millions of learners across the globe.

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