Want To Grow a Membership Based Business? 6 Top Membership Site Owners Share Their Hard Won Lessons

Looking to grow a membership based business? Great!

It helps to learn from those who have walked the path, and avoid some of the common pitfalls that all membership site owners face.

We rounded up 6 of the most successful online entrepreneurs who use membership sites to scale their businesses, and asked them to tell us what they WISHED they knew before they launched their membership sites.

So you don’t have to make the same mistakes, or re-invent the wheel!

So take the time to read through this collection of tips from the some of the most successful subscription businesses on some of the lessons they wish they’d known before launching a membership site.

Be Realistic About Your Membership Site Production Timelines

A membership site is really a small eco-system with many moving parts. There’s the tech part (plugins, integrations, automations, etc.), the design and planning parts, the content ideation and creation… and the list goes on.

If you’re only really familiar with one part, it’s easy to underestimate how much time it will take you to put the whole thing together.

That’s why this lesson from membership site pro Mike Morrison packs so much punch:

grow a membership based businessI wish I’d realized just how long content production can take!

It’s the one area of running a membership that we were always completely hands-off with when working with clients.

So when it came to launching our own membership we were perhaps a little over-optimistic about how much we could realistically get done and how quickly we could do it.

Mike Morrison – The Membership Geeks

A membership site – no matter how “small” it seems, is a huge project. Rule of thumb: make a generous estimate how much time it will take to create all of your content and tech setup… and then add 30%.

Simpler is Better

It might sound counterintuitive, but for membership site site design, less is often more. The natural impulse is to show off everything to your new subscribers… but the goal is to make sure they know exactly what the “next step” is in the journey.

Too many options quickly leads to overwhelm and confusion.

If you’re too familiar with the overall layout, enlist the help of an impartial third party to help you gauge the simplicity level of your site setup… so you can avoid learning this lesson the hard way.

most successful subscription businesses

My biggest lesson is that simple is best.

It doesn’t work if your clients have to search all around for information because you have a pretty (but complicated) site where they can’t find anything.

We actually reduced our refund rate by making things really easy to find and cutting out a bunch of extra information. Less is definitely more, and I wish I did it years ago!

Denise Duffield-Thomas – LuckyBitch.com

This is a lesson that truly can make a huge difference in the success of your membership site. If your site is complicated or presents too much information at once, users can become easily overwhelmed. Once that happens, their lifespan as a paying subscriber is extremely limited.

Find ways to reduce overwhelm and streamline the experience for your users.

membership business model ideas

Focus more on functionality and user experience…

Before launching my member site for Wild Soul Movement back in 2014, I wish I would have focused more on functionality and user experience and less on custom design.

It’s lovely when something can be beautiful also, but first and foremost people need to be able to find what they are looking for with maximum ease.

Elizabeth DiAlto – WildSoulMovement.com

Click to get these 28 membership site examples

Focus On Helping Subscribers to Implement Lessons and Achieve Results

Membership sites can be fully automated from start to finish, leaving your hands free to focus on other areas of your business.

… but your students should also feel like they’re on a totally personalized track.

Figure out what tools they need to succeed, and build those into your online course or membership site right off the bat.

Because here’s a secret: the long-term success of your membership site does not depend on how many people “bought in”. It depends on whether your subscribers experienced the results you promised.

grow a membership based business

First, make sure you’re playing the “long game”.

Membership sites are not a sprint. They are a marathon. So treat them as such. Remember that the money with membership sites starts with someone becoming a member. But the real profits are made in keeping people happy. So make sure that you have as much (if not more) of your focus on keeping people happy and helping them get results.

Less Is Best

The value from your membership does NOT come from the volume of information you provide. The value comes from the SPEED of which people are able to IMPLEMENT what you provide. So keep your content tight and put more of your focus on creating resources that help people implement what you’re teaching (vs. giving them more to learn). If you do that, your members will get far better results and you’ll experience much higher retention.

Celebrate Your Members

Your long-term success depends on your ability to help people make positive progress towards the results they’re after. So first get clear on how someone’s life will be better because of your membership. Then create content around supporting them to that result. Then finally, celebrate the wins of your members. The stories of your members are your most powerful marketing asset. Use them and use them often to attract new members and inspire existing members to keep applying what they’re learning.

Stu McLaren – Stu.Me

How much fun it can be 🙂

Building a membership site is stressful… but don’t lose sight of the fun adventure. It’s one of the most powerful tools you can add to your online business to connect with your clients and help them achieve their goals.

membership business model ideasI wish I’d known how much I would love it!

If I had, I would have launched my membership site, Origin™, years ago.

Seriously, this is my favorite business project to date and I LOVE the membership model.

Kate Northrup – OriginCollective.com

Build It With The Big Picture in Mind

Most of us start small: one online course, housed inside a membership program.

But the reality is that any solid business idea, with commitment and perseverance, can totally take off and be the next B-School.

Find the right balance for your business in the tech tools and setup you choose for your membership site platform.

That’s something that Nathalie Lussier, founder of AccessAlly and creator of the AccessAlly membership site plugin shares about her own past experience:

most successful subscription businessesI built my very first membership site in 2009 and one of the things I wish I would have known to do is to build it for multiple products and programs, all under one roof. As I released new courses and programs, there was no easy way for people to find these, buy them, or even login…

It caused a lot of administrative headaches because customers could have multiple passwords. In more recent years, after starting a recurring membership site where members pay each year or each month… the biggest takeaway for me has been to plan for lots of interaction between members.

One year, we had an in-person event. Many of the members in our membership site got to meet for the first time, and it brought the whole experience to a whole new level for these members. It also made it easier to fill the event – people were coming to meet each other after months of interacting online… and it felt like everyone knew each other before stepping into the room!

Nathalie Lussier – AccessAlly.com

Are you ready to grow a membership-based business?

Take these lessons to heart and use them to help you build the membership site you’ve been envisioning for your online business.

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  • Great tips! I agree, not all advice is good! Or, as you stated, it MIGHT be good IF it applies to your business!
    I was given many of the pieces of advice you mention, such as:
    “Give it all away–that’s how you’ll grow” — As Mike Morrison stated above, content production of any kind takes time…more time that we think. I LOVE creating content but we all have the same 168 hours in a week.
    “You are NOT charging enough” — I priced my membership based on what I knew my audience could afford and would see as a decent price for the transformation it gives and problems it solves. From there, I decided how much content would be created each month that also made my time and effort fall within that revenue. It sounds a bit backwards, but the focus was on my customers, not me, to start with and then finding the balance
    “Change your model–the technology available doesn’t do that, so just give it all…they’ll stay for the community”
    When I couldn’t find the tech tools I needed to provide the content for my membership site in a way that met my business model (an “a la carte” type of content release…where they choose the 4 pieces of content they want each month), most of the advice I received was “give it all away……they’ll come for the content but stay for the community”. It’s great advice, but not for my business model. I knew they were coming—and staying—for the content, not for community (they are too busy and don’t want to pay for community) but community can be an added bonus for my group.
    So, I kept looking. It took 6+ months to find the platform that would work for me (coincidentally, it is AccessAlly).
    What I wish I knew:
    I think the one thing I wish I knew before launching was how much of a learning curve there is regarding some technologies and how much help I’d actually need. I was in ignorant bliss of it all in the beginning. But once I launched the new membership site I found:
    I needed to learn what WordPress was and how it worked as my membership site was going to be built there. My main website is not built on wordpress and there is not a plug-in capability to the platform, so plug-ins and everything that goes along with using WP was totally foreign to me!).
    I needed to learn an entirely new system for funnels because I changed from a list-based ESP to a more robust system. and that tech breakdowns happen…sometimes often…
    All this tech stuff takes time and the learning of a new “tech” based language (all the tech buzzwords!). So, I think being realistic about what you know, what you need to know and then finding help with the parts you need help with is important. For me it was tech knowledge (or lack thereof), for others it may be putting content into a deliverable format that makes sense to the audience, for others it may be graphic design for images.
    Whatever it is, be realistic and outsource what you need to. It is how you will be able to focus on YOUR areas of expertise and deliver quality content that changes people’s lives!

    • I love your answers Cheryl, thank you so much for sharing them. What really resonated for me was this ” I knew they were coming—and staying—for the content, not for community (they are too busy and don’t want to pay for community) but community can be an added bonus for my group.”
      When I first started blogging, I was told I was doing it all wrong as I didn’t have a community…. My customers didn’t want or need a community. I was trying to squish what worked into someone else’s business model. Since then, I’ve grown enough to realise that not everyone wants community – some want a space to think, others want to consume the content at their own pace and community makes them feel less.
      So thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, it’s great to know there are others who think along the lines that I do.

      • ambitionally

        Hi Sarah – thanks so much for chiming in here to give us your take on this topic, too! It’s so interesting how we take on other people’s “formulas” and “suggestions” even though they may not apply to our businesses or audiences, right?
        Keep rocking it out, your way!

    • ambitionally

      Omigosh, Cheryl thank you SO much for sharing your perspective and experience with creating and running your membership! I especially like the point about “give all the content and people will stay for the community”, and how you really understood what your customers need (including the price they’ll pay).
      Seriously amazing advice and so spot on!

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