Does earning a regular monthly income and a bunch of loyal customers sound good to you?
Let’s make it even better … what if these paying customers could be a great testing ground for your newest service or product ideas?
And better still — what if you had the chance to spend time creating powerful, in-depth content — while getting paid for it over and over again?
Well, this doesn’t need to be a “what if” situation for you …
Your business can have all this with a membership site: a private website, with exclusive content and (usually) the ability for members to interact with one another. They pay you a monthly fee.
You’ve probably come across sites like these before — just like Authority, Copyblogger’s content marketing training and networking community.
I’ve had my own membership site up and runnning for a while, and here’s what I’ve learned from a year and a half of running it, boiled down into seven easy-to-use tips:
#1: Start before you think you’re ready
For years, I knew that I wanted to run a membership site. I loved the idea of regular monthly income and a dedicated group of writers to work with.
But I kept putting it off.
I didn’t think I was good enough. I didn’t think I had enough to offer. But I could’ve gotten it going much earlier than I did.
You’ll never be completely ready. Start it anyway.
Try it: If you’re not sure that you have enough to offer, you can:
- Start off at a ridiculously low fee. Let your charter members know they’ll basically be acting as guinea pigs — and that you’d love their feedback and ideas.
- Aim for a minimum viable product (MVP) rather than perfection. Your membership site doesn’t need to be the next Teaching Sells.
#2: Learn from membership sites you belong to
Do you belong to any membership sites? I had a great time as a member of the first iteration of Authority — and shamelessly stole their structure, starting off my site with:
- Monthly seminars (sometimes with guest speakers).
- Monthly Q&A calls — I discontinued these after a few months as not enough questions were coming in.
- Member forums.
And, if you belong to a membership site that isn’t working perfectly for you, ask yourself what you would do differently. For me, that meant sending weekly emails to my members, letting them know about anything new and highlighting key forum topics.
Try it: If you’ve never been part of a membership site before, consider joining one for a month or two.
- What’s working well for you in that site? What makes it worth the monthly fee — and how could you replicate this?
- What doesn’t work for you? If you’re struggling to find time to use the resources, for instance, how could the site owner make that easier?
Bring in other learning experiences here, too; perhaps you had a great course (or a terrible one) during college, and you can use aspects of that to help you with your planning.
#3: Interact and engage with members
Although some membership sites are simply dripped feeds of content, with little or no input from the owner, members will have a much stronger reason to join if they know they’ll have insider access to you.
Depending on your set-up, that could mean:
- Live seminars or webinars where members can ask questions through chat or over the phone.
- Forums where you post regularly, providing help and support for your members.
- A text chat room where you hold “office hours” or similar.
- A private Facebook group where you chat with members.
- A contact form that ensures you spot members’ messages quickly in your inbox.
Try it: Even if you’re busy, stay involved with you membership site. It might help to:
- Set aside time on a regular basis to interact. E.g. you might check forums daily, send out an email weekly, and hold a live webinar every three months.
- Lead the way with interaction. (This is on my “get better at” list.) If your forums are quiet, start an extra topic or two — members may be shy about breaking the ice.
#4: Run group events and challenges
Maybe you’ve provided tons of great materials — ecourses in bite-sized chunks, pre-recorded seminars, video tutorials — but members just don’t seem to be engaging with them.
Some people enjoy working at their own pace, alone, but many find it easier to stay motivated and on track when they’re going through materials with a group.
You don’t necessarily need to have a big event to get people involved — in fact, simple is probably better. Right now, I’m running a “Summer Challenge” in my membership site (Writers’ Huddle) to help members work toward their writing goals. Each week, I create a super-short video (1 – 2 mins) with a bit of encouragement and their “mini-challenge” for the week.
Try it: There’s a wonderful buzz and energy in working as a group, but this can be tough to foster when members live in different countries and time zones. You could aim to:
- Have regular events, challenges, group courses, or similar. This might simply mean using existing materials in your membership site and going through them week by week.
- Make it easy to participate … and fun! I’ve found that offering prizes creates a great incentive for members to get involved.
#5: Give out free places
One of the very best things I did with my membership site was something I was anxious about: I let a handful of people in for free.
That might sound like a stupid idea — after all, that’s money I could be missing out on. But I gave these free places to writers who wouldn’t have been able to join otherwise.
If you have audience members who you’d love to have on board, but who probably won’t be able to afford your fees, consider letting them in for free. They might be people who regularly leave thoughtful comments on your blog, or tweet your posts, or even write about you on their site.
These lovely people are often your greatest fans — and they may well become some of the most committed, helpful members of your site.
- Think whether there’s anyone in your current audience who’d be just perfect for your site — but who might not be able to pay.
- If offering free places will eat into your margins too much, consider having discounted places for students / under-18s / retirees.
#6: Help members find their way around as your site grows
When you start your membership site, your main concern will probably be ensuring that members know they’re getting plenty of content for their money.
After a year or so, you’ll realize that there’s more than enough content — and your members need an easy route through the maze.
If, for instance, you put out one recorded seminar and one Q&A every month, and one course of video lessons every three months, you’ll have twelve seminars, twelve Q&As and four courses after a year — plus any extras you might have created.
- Make sure you have a “Welcome” page or similar for new members to help them get started quickly. Update this on a regular basis.
- Remind members of older resources they might have missed. If you produce a new seminar or course, link to older ones that are relevant.
#7: Shift and adapt based on members’ needs
Your membership site won’t always look the same. Over time, you might find that what sounded like a great idea six months ago simply isn’t working any more.
Keep an eye on member engagement and involvement, and don’t doggedly pursue things that no-one seems to care much about — however awesome you think they are!
That might mean switching from live webinars to recorded ones (or vice versa). It could mean getting rid of little-used forums, or making a course simpler for members to engage with.
Don’t be afraid to ask members what they want. Most will be constructive and supportive, and will have some great insights for you. You might want to run a regular members’ survey, or simply use your forums / Facebook group / etc to ask for opinions.
- Plan to review what’s working and what isn’t on a regular basis — maybe with a survey every six months.
- Be careful not to overwhelm members with several different new initiatives at once. (I’ve sometimes been guilty of this!) Try to introduce one thing at a time.
Over to you …
If you have a membership site, I’d love your top tips for building and growing it in the comments below. And, if you’re thinking of starting one, what’s holding you back?
Don’t think you can keep up your content production? It’s not as difficult as you think.
Afraid of the technical side of building a membership website? You don’t have to be.
Anything else? Let us know in the comments so we can give you some help with this …
About the Author: Ali Luke runs Writers’ Huddle, a membership site for writers that’s packed with great content -- and that has lovely, supportive members. If you’re a blogger, novelist, short-story writer, freelancer (or a bit of everything) then get all the details and read what members have said here.