Your website is more than just a tool that gives your business a face online. It can be a business in itself.
Here's what I mean by that:
One of the best ways to increase your income (without working more hours for dollars) is to set up a membership site platform.
A membership site becomes the hub of your online training, allows your fans to connect more, and gives you a community of fans to ask for input, information, and questions.
When done well, it can provide an amazing source of recurring revenue for your online business.
Table of Contents
- What is a Membership Site?
- Membership Site Examples – By Type Of Members Area
- Free vs Paid Membership Sites
- Designing Your Membership Site
- The Next Step…
What is a Membership Site?
A membership site is a set of pages with protected content behind a “login area”. Often, a membership site will house videos, text, and downloads that are for free or paid members only.
Asking members to login to the members site means that you can tailor the experience to each member, by remembering what content they've accessed and allowing them to customize their experience, too.
You might use a membership site to house online courses, community directories or associations, and recurring members-only content.
Membership Site Examples – By Type Of Members Area
This isn't a one-size-fits-all opportunity. There are different types of membership sites, each with its own unique model and setup.
We're sharing the main three types of members area… but the one you choose will be determined by the unique needs of your business.
Designing a professional looking membership site can take time and investment, but the returns are well worth it.
1. Online Courses
When you sell online courses, you need a protected online area that only the course students can access. This protected online area is where you'll store your digital workbooks, course videos, and any other content you want as a part of your course.
Once you have your online course area set up, students can purchase access to your course(s), then log in under their own unique account to view the materials.
The AccessAlly WordPress plugin is helpful for creating this style of online class membership site.
Uplevel your courses by creating more opportunities for student engagement. This video gives one example of how this might look, by using a member directory.
Learn more about delivering online courses with our successful membership site case study post.
2. Online Communities
Community forums give your fans the opportunity to interact with one another – and with you. It taps into a desire that most consumers have on some level: direct contact with the person in charge of the business.
You can create an online community as a hub of information for new fans of your business or interest. It's also a great chance for old, loyal fans to interact and share their knowledge.
Use this community to share “sneak peeks” of upcoming releases, offer members-only discounts, or discuss issues with your fans.
The best part of an online community is that over time, it becomes much more self-moderating. Older members naturally begin to step up to enforce the rules, answer simple questions that they've seen over and over again, and start discussions of their own.
The downside? You have to have a fairly substantial online fan base in order for an online community to do you any good. The point is interaction, and if you don't have enough people to interact, members will find something else to do with their time.
Pro tip: You can also host live coaching calls or group training calls inside your members area, to help keep the interactivity high.
One of the most common questions I get asked is whether you should keep the community inside your members area using a forum, or to host it on something like Facebook.
My answer: go where your people are.
In my case, that means using a private Facebook group for the majority of our community interaction.
But if your audience doesn't use Facebook, having a forum inside your membership site might be a better fit.
3. Host Evergreen Content Inside Your Membership Site
It can be time-consuming to create enough new content for your membership site to convince your subscribers to stay active and keep logging in.
There's an easy fix:
Consider using an “evergreen” setup that slowly releases content over time. With this model, members will keep coming back and give you the opportunity to share more products with them. The best part is that itdoesn't require as much effort or maintenance on your part.
There are actually 3 different ways to sell online memberships with monthly content or monthly payment plans: traditional evergreen, start at sign up, and all-access… each of these has pros and cons and you can see a video of the three options in action here.
You can easily build this type of unlocking content using AccessAlly's automation features.
Free vs Paid Membership Sites
Once you decide on the type of content you want to present inside your site, it's time to figure out how to sell it.
If you want to increase your income with a membership site, the obvious choice is to require clients to pay for access.
Even a small monthly or annual fee will keep the “recurring revenue” rolling in then, right?
So let's look a little deeper into what happens with each format:
The Paid Membership Site Format
Paid membership sites charge a small monthly or yearly fee for access to premium content. You can also offer to unlock content in a course on a one-time fee basis, and just host your premium content inside a members only area.
A paid membership model also tends to keep out people who aren't genuinely interested in the product you're offering, which means that you have better odds of maintaining a productive community.
Obviously, the key benefit of paid membership sites is that you can keep adding members to increase your monthly or yearly recurring income. One thing to keep in mind is that there is built in turnover or churn, so not everyone who joins will stay on forever. Because of this, you'll want to build in continuous marketing into your business plans to attract new members.
The Free Membership Format
Free membership sites have their own unique advantages. First, they're available to anyone who wants to look in on what you're doing.
In some cases, having access to that content will convince people that they want to take advantage of the products and services you're offering. In fact, there's a whole strategy behind this method, called the Login Optin™ Strategy. (You can learn about it here.)
Also, think about the type of people who are likely to be interested in joining your community. Are they an older crowd or younger? Are they currently in school? Elderly individuals who might be on a fixed income? What about stay at home parents, who often sacrifice a second income in order to be able to stay at home with their families?
All of these individuals will be more likely to take part in your community if they don't have to pay membership fees to make that possible.
For Best Results, Offer a Mix Of Paid and Free Content
It doesn't have to be all or nothing. There's a compromise between “free” and “paid.” You can offer an open area of your membership site and a closed area that is only available to people who pay the fee.
Offering free memberships as prizes and giving free memberships to older fans that you've noticed falling away from the community are also options that take the best of both worlds.
This is exactly what we do with our free 30 Day List Building Challenge. Anyone can join for free, and access the full 30 days of training videos and downloads… and at the same time, they'll be shown other great courses and options that they can upgrade to.
You can also take a look at 3 different ways to sell online membership subscriptions: it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You can even have people purchase previous months of content if you don't want to make everything available upon sign up.
Designing Your Membership Site
The first step to the perfect membership site? Taking the plunge. If you have an active fan base or online following, the first thing you need to do is ask your audience what they want from you.
Of course you'll be tempted to dig into the details like choosing a WordPress membership theme, comparing CRMs, and getting a membership plugin up and running. But don't get bogged down by these technical details quite yet!
At first, it might seem intimidating, especially if your online community will require you to produce content regularly.
Here's the thing you have to remember: you don't have to produce a year's worth of content overnight, nor do you have to come up with the idea for every tutorial or training you're going to produce in the first month that your community is up and running.
You'll have plenty of time to come up with ideas.
The more you produce, the more you'll be able to think of.
Ask members to tell you what kind of content they're interested in seeing, then produce it. It's that simple!
If you're looking for a guide to build your membership site successfully, then consider hiring one of our AccessAlly Certified Partners to help you get going.
Plus, with AccessAlly on your site, you'll be well ahead of the curve on the design of your membership site!
The Next Step…
Developing the first part of the community. Consider offering a “testing” membership for free or at an extremely reduced price to a number of individuals that you know are an active part of your current fan base. Give them a sneak peek at the action while you're developing the community.
Let them know up front that they're part of your testing group: you're still working out the kinks and figuring out how this is going to work, but you want them to come in on the ground floor and help you figure this out.
From there, market, market, market! Use your social media accounts and current website to seek out people who will be interested in your new community. Offer them a peek of what you're offering. Then tailor your community to the needs of its members and watch it thrive!
Creating an online membership site is a wonderful way to interact with your fans, engage with people who care about your products, and deliver an amazing learning experience. (Especially when you pair your membership site with AccessAlly Pro!)
The type of membership site you design is up to you… but the sky is the limit when it comes to the people you can reach. Take the plunge and see what you can accomplish!
Leave a comment below with your favorite membership site examples, so we can check 'em out!