Yay, you're ready to build (or thinking about building) your first membership site! So you set out to find the best membership site ideas to get you going…
Seriously, how exciting… and 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 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 essential things to think about when building your online course.
Table of Contents
- Best Membership Site Ideas: The Initial Setup
- 1. Paid, Free, Or Both?
- 2. One-time Purchase vs. Ongoing Membership Subscription
- 3. Where Will The Membership Site Be Housed?
- 4. How Will You Be Taking Payments?
- 5. Who's Designing This Thing, And How Do You Want It To Look?
- 6. One Course or Many?
- 7. Will You Be Offering An Affiliate Program?
- 8. Have You Planned Out Your Core Course Materials?
- 9. How Many Members Do You Want To Be Able To Host?
- 10. Will Your CRM Support A Membership Site Integration?
- 11. Drip Fed Content vs Full Course Access
- Material Presentation: The Fun Stuff
- 12. What Media Will You Use To Present The Material?
- 13. Professional vs DIY Video Presentation
- 14. Fostering A Social Atmosphere
- 15. Integrating Quizzes Into Your Membership Material
- 16. Automate The Encouragement Your Students Need To Finish The Course
- 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 In-site Currency
- Promoting Your New Membership Site
- Have You Crafted An Online Course Before? (If Not, Here Are Some Resources!)
Best Membership Site Ideas: The Initial Setup
1. Paid, Free, Or Both?
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 sales you'll be able to make with your paid program offerings.
2. One-time Purchase vs. Ongoing Membership Subscription
This is 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 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 subscription could be a great choice.
3. Where Will The Membership Site Be Housed?
Some membership sites can be housed and hosted on your own website. WordPress membership site plugins like AccessAlly fall into this category.
Other systems require users to log into an entirely different website, which can be good and bad. 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
4. How Will You Be Taking Payments?
There are a lot of 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.
If you're using a more robust CRM like Infusionsoft or Ontraport, the e-commerce tools you need are housed right inside the system CRM. This makes 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.
5. Who's Designing This Thing, And How Do You Want It To Look?
First impressions matter…especially when you want someone to pay for what they're seeing.
Branding matters in your membership site is just as important as branding for your online business presence. 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 site.
6. One Course or Many?
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, Heartquarters, 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. Will You Be Offering An Affiliate Program?
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 two things to think about:
- Do I have access to software that will take care of the tech stuff (affiliate links, tracking, and payments)
- Will this software integrate with my membership site?
What We Do: We opted to go with Infusionsoft, one of the more robust CRM/email marketing platforms out there. Infusionsoft also includes an affiliate center, which takes care of this task for us.
8. Have You Planned Out Your Core 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…and that your ideal clients are going to really love.
Take the time itemize 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 critique, 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. How Many Members Do You Want To Be Able To Host?
This is a big one!
When we first started out, we picked a really nice membership site platform that worked “just fine” for us…until the 30 Day List Building Challenge took off and totally overwhelmed our membership site.
With massive amounts of traffic, the site was overloaded and went down pretty often. Such a hassle.
The moral of the story: Some membership site hosting options 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. Will Your CRM Support A Membership Site Integration?
Email marketing, CRMs (customer relationship management systems), 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?
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).
Material Presentation: The Fun Stuff
12. What Media Will You Use To Present The Material?
There are so many ways to teach material in an online course! Videos, audio tracks, text, and quizzes – just to name a few.
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 and pay for an entire movie crew to film your video courses (though you can, of course!). 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 and 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 plugin like BBPress.
How We Did It: In our Heartquarters membership site, we used the user 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 The Encouragement Your Students Need To Finish The Course
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 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 In-Site 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.
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 In-site 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. Will You Be Marketing With Paid Or “Free” Advertising Methods?
Perhaps the two most popular paid advertising platforms among entrepreneurs are Facebook and Google Adwords. 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.
22. Is Your Email List Primed To Receive The Good News About Your Membership Site?
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.
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.
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.
Have You Crafted An Online Course Before? (If Not, Here Are Some Resources!)
Launching an online course or full membership site can be overwhelming…but it doesn't have to be! There are so many people who have done it before with wild success, and who are willing to share some tips and tricks to make your launch run smoothly.