Whether it’s for social networking, streaming movies, or learning a new skill, there’s a seemingly endless supply of members-only sites — with new ones popping up each day. If you haven’t already hopped on the bandwagon, now’s the time.
One reason they’ve become so popular? Membership sites can be adapted to almost any business type and dedicated to fans, coaches, community forums, business support, self-improvement and more.
It can be difficult to look at one style of membership site and try to apply it to your business, so we reached out to various successful membership site owners from different industries. They offered up their best bits of advice for anyone interested in creating and operating a membership site. Here’s what they had to say.
Meet the Experts
Jeff and Stephanie Padovani, Book More Brides — Gives wedding professionals the tools they need to market and promote themselves and fill their booking calendar
Ryan Gromfin, The Restaurant Boss — Helps restaurant owners operate better restaurants with a series of products
Matthew Kostanecki, Owners Academy — Walks people through the steps needed to build a business they love
John Hutchinson, Millionaire Blueprint — Provides self-directed investors a short-term investing plan
Donna Moritz, Socially Sorted — Works with business owners to get more reach, referrals and results using visual social media and content strategy
Christo Hall and Franziska Iseli, Basic Bananas — Gives business owners marketing expertise at their fingertips
Trish and Nick Radge, The Chartist — Simplifies the trading and investment process for busy people
Bob Newberry, The Fitness Mindset — Provides members with access to online fitness modules and live coaching calls
Shar Fuller, Mai Tai — Provides exclusive networking opportunities for London-based professionals
Ren Burgett, 3RCoach — Connects a community of job seekers to support and encourage each other through the entire process of finding a job
Eric Nagel, Type-A-Parent — Caters to lifestyle bloggers and micro influencers looking to learn strategies to build their brand and connect with others
“Book More Brides helps wedding professionals (photographers, DJs, wedding planners, etc.) market and promote themselves to fill up their booking calendar and increase their prices. We specialize in quick, high-impact actions that get fast results. We saw a need for a lower-priced option for wedding professionals who couldn’t afford our more expensive courses. It was also an opportunity to create recurring monthly income for our business.” — J&S
“The Restaurant Boss offers many different products that can be consumed in different mediums, all to help restaurant owners operate better restaurants.” — RG
“I empower job seekers of all ages, backgrounds, and career stages in discovering their purpose, presenting the best version of themselves, and finding career fulfillment. I started a membership site for my coaching practice as a way to support job seekers 24 hours a day and offer a community of like-minded people the opportunity to connect and support each other through the entire job search journey. My membership site, 3R Pro, connects a community of job seekers to support and encourage each other through the entire process of finding a job.” — RB
“Owners Academy helps people build a business they love. Instead of learning just theory, you’ll actually see the tactical steps that I’ve taken to help grow several businesses to achieve millions in sales (including my own!). Members can learn and follow along while they build their own businesses, too.” — MK
“Our membership site, [Basic Bananas], gives business owners marketing expertise at their fingertips. There is everything they need to roll out their marketing campaigns with step-by-step examples and support from our team as they implement.” — C&F
“Socially Sorted works with business owners, bloggers and entrepreneurs who want to learn how to use visual social media and content strategy to get more reach, referrals and results in their business. Our members learn how to create a visual content strategy as well as visuals ranging from images to short videos, slideshares and infographics. Members range from small business owners to virtual assistants, social media managers, and entrepreneurs — all wanting to get higher traffic, shares and results online with visual content.” — DM
“Millionaire Blueprint provides self-directed investors a short-term investing plan and a monthly portfolio of 10 stocks to grow their portfolios.” — JH
“The Chartist’s goal is to simplify the trading and investment process for busy people. We provide robust, proven strategies for the Australian and U.S. stock markets, trading education and an active community forum for members to interact, organize meetups and get supported.” — T&N
“Members [of The Fitness Mindset] have access to online modules and live coaching calls that are delivered each week for the first eight weeks of our program, and they maintain access to the content for a full 12 months.” — BN
“At Type-A Parent, we have a membership option named The Tribe that caters to lifestyle bloggers and micro influencers. They can learn strategies and technique to build their brand, connect with people who can help them to the next level, and introduce them to brand and agencies.” — EN
“Mai Tai Balance is the key to first class events in London, from networking events to epic art exhibitions. Mai Tai Connect is a bespoke matchmaking service, enabling busy professionals to meet up with like-minded professionals.” — SF
Here’s a closer look into what strategies these experts use to make their membership site successful.
Welcoming New Members
An important part of any membership site is making the new members feel at home. Think outside just the “Welcome” screen.
“When the site was first launched, I made a big mistake of not saying anything to new members when they joined. I just did a little dance and double checked their profile. Whether they have a free trial or they are paying members, send an email to say welcome to the club. Make sure you say thanks in a way that matches what they have paid when someone makes the commitment to join your site.” — SF
Send a Welcome Pack
“We have welcome videos to build familiarity and show new members how to get the most out of their membership. We also send a welcome pack by post so they get an awesome gift box. There are hidden bonuses of valuable content to wow members throughout their membership.” – C&F
Offer Tips for Success
“Once a client joins my site they receive an initial email with tips on how to get the most from the membership site. I then use a drip campaign to send weekly emails offering additional tips or just to check in to see how they are enjoying the site. Since my email sequence is automated, there’s no additional work on my part when a new member joins.” — RB
Samples and Trials
Trials can be the ultimate foot in the door. It’s a great way to sample your site to prospective customers and help them make an informed decision later down the line.
“The restaurant business has lots of turnover so, while I could offer [my program] as a one-time fee, I decided to make it very reasonable for a 90-day trial. My selling proposition is that in 90 days you can run your entire staff through the program. However, I then charge monthly after that. Very few people drop off because they are always hiring new employees.” — RG
“We use 60-day paid trials (no guarantee, no refund) with recurring billing taking effect each month thereafter, and we also offer annual membership upgrades. Our trials range from $49 to $97, and our monthly recurring billings range from $49 monthly to $199 quarterly to $697 annually.” — JH
“Members participate by initially joining a two-week trial membership for $19 which gives them access to all strategies, education and the community. At the end of the two weeks, they automatically transition to a $120 monthly membership or they can choose different annual memberships for further savings. Importantly, the onboarding sequence reminds prospects that they will switch to a monthly membership at the end of the trial and makes it clear that they have the option to cancel at any time. We also offer recurring annual memberships.” — T&N
If you’re charging for access to your content, choosing the right payment method and plan is an important step. Consider your audience and market, and decide what payment time frame would work best for your business.
“We just use a recurring monthly subscription.” — EN
Pay As You Go
“For the first few months, we used a pay-as-you-go model. This worked well and gave us time to grow the database.” — SF
“Currently we use a one-time upfront payment for access to the course for 12 months, plus three upsell options for those wanting more intensive coaching sessions one-on-one with us.” — BN
“I offer two types. One is a monthly subscription that renews each month until a client cancels. The second is a 3-month membership for a flat fee. The average job search is 12-16 weeks. I made my decision knowing most members would only need to use my site during their search for a new career.” — RB
“We use a monthly or annual subscription plan.” — J&S
“In the dating industry, most matchmakers take a large payment upfront. We offer a monthly subscription payment plan to build trust. It also means that members can choose to opt out easily. Make sure the terms and conditions for cancellation are crystal clear and fair.” — SF
Building a Community
Members are the backbone of your membership site. Use these tips to instill a sense of community while engaging your audience.
Create a Community Worth Sticking Around For
“I have good systems in place for creating new members, and my churn rate is pretty low, but I know that community is going to be the key to keeping customers for the long-haul and, more importantly, creating raving fans. My goal is to create a community that is so supportive, friendly, inspiring and helpful that people don’t ever want to leave.” — RG
“The community is so strong now that people get so much value it is hard to leave.” — SF
“Members have everything to do with a business’s product strategy and what I call ‘personal, interactive access,’ meaning the closer your paying subscribers feel they are to you, and the more engaged you are with them, the faster your business can grow and the more money you can charge for your memberships.” — JH
Let Them Know They Belong
“The more ‘community’ feel you can give your site, the better. People want to feel they are part of something. As the owner of the membership site, it’s your responsibility to make sure your clients feel engaged and appreciated.” — RG
Make It Exclusive
“In the last 12 months we moved our trading forum that had been a public online forum since 1998 into our membership community. As a result, our members get access to exclusive training; they can chat with us and our analysts, and they can chat with each other. This has created a real buzz around our membership service and added a level of exclusivity.” — T&N
Regardless of Your Industry, Create a Community
“Even if you aren’t an online business, you can provide great value with a members site, create more raving fans, and build community, which is key to marketing any awesome brand.” — C&F
Strong User Experience
A great user experience reflects on your brand. Here’s what to consider when crafting yours.
Keep a Modern Design
“Make sure your site looks modern and you’ve had someone check the user experience (UX) so that people don’t find anything difficult to use/do. Keep blogs up-to-date and send out a newsletter every now and then to keep them engaged.” — SF
Include Login Details
“We include login details in every membership-related email we send, which further eliminates member frustration with not remembering their passwords.” — JH
“Prompt members to update their credit card details. Ask for feedback if a membership is cancelled. Send cart abandonment emails.” — T&N
Limit It to a Certain Number of Members
“It’s by application, [and] only open during certain periods of time. This helps ensure I can get a small, dedicated group of students at a time, and I can devote the proper time to them without taking away from my other business.” — MK
“Talk to the people who cancel; most of the time they’ll tell you why they left, and you can use that to better your membership offering.” — Eric Nagel
Keeping Members Engaged
Without any member engagement, your site would just be a static work of art. Here are some tips to keep members enthusiastic and engaged.
“We do two things to keep our members engaged. One, we provide content relevant to the product they’ve purchased and drive our traffic to it. Two, we provide useful videos and tools; the videos especially act as an ongoing engagement tactic for our members.” — JH
“We try to add new training, articles or videos to the forum each week, and we encourage members to use the community to ask questions.” — T&N
“We typically use weekly emails to notify members when the next module is ready, reminders for live coaching calls, and stay in touch to address any fears/limiting beliefs that we know members will be going through.” — BN
“We send weekly ‘Action Challenge’ emails and reminders of the great new content we’re adding.” — J&S
“Every Monday, [members] get an email inviting them to post in the ‘Accountability’ forum the one thing they plan on accomplishing that week. I also do broadcast emails highlighting interesting topics or successes that were posted. The membership software itself also provides a way for members to get updates every time something is posted in a forum, if they choose.” — MK
Let Some Conversations Be Private
“I use the Slack app to engage my members. I was on the fence between using a Facebook group or Slack. Since I work with job seekers, I went with Slack because of the privacy factor. Often when people are looking to make a career change, they want to keep it private. Slack offers a ton of additional features inside the site that allows you to engage members. They also have icebreaker and game apps to make it more fun and engaging.” — RG
Using Facebook Groups
Consider creating a Facebook group for your membership site. As most people are already on Facebook, it’s immensely accessible, requires less work in set-up and maintenance, and makes casual participation natural. Here are some ways you can utilize Facebook groups.
“Currently I post into the Facebook group and answer questions, but I need to be more diligent with this. My goal is to create a community that is so supportive, friendly, inspiring and helpful that people don’t ever want to leave.” — RG
Offer Additional Support
“Members [get] access to our existing private Facebook group to connect with our support team to ask questions, and share their wins/challenges/experiences with other members who are going through the same thing.” — BN
Use Facebook Live As a Webinar Platform
“Members of my programs have access to a members-only Facebook group where myself and a team member are active. We are about to start doing some regular Facebook Live Q&As. ” — DM
There are lots of things to take into consideration when deciding how to deliver your content to your members. Here are some creative ways these membership site owners are sharing their value with their members.
“We launch the program one to two times per year via webinar. We also introduced an evergreen, three-part video series, which is followed by a personalized email launch sequence using Deadline Funnel. Each person receives an individualized ‘cart close’ timer. It’s fully automated, converts well (between 5-8%), and has been a game-changer in terms of the potential I can see for online programs. We [also] periodically add more videos, PDFs/planners, bonuses and updates, so our members generally check back in to the membership site platform for regular updates.” — DM
“Once enrolled, members get access to all material upfront but also get a weekly email about each module.” — MK
“The site includes sequential release of video resources, worksheets, links to register for support webinars, links to live chat and support. We make it a central place where our Basic Bananas members know they can go to get any of their business and marketing questions answered.” — C&F
“A few of my products are one-time pay and only accessible through the membership site, and some are monthly subscriptions. Some are a combination with a one-time pay for a ‘live’ portion of the training.” — RG
“Members have access to online modules and live coaching calls that are delivered each week for the first eight weeks of our program, and they maintain access to the content for a full 12 months.” — BN
It’s important to keep these things in mind as you grow your membership site and community.
Systemize the Workflow
“Make sure the workflows behind-the-scenes are smooth and can be followed by any member of staff. This will ensure that the process is efficient which will save you time and money. We like to send a personal message to new members but, other than that, we use a booking system that is automated and every matchmaker uses the same templates for the catch-up call with members.” — SF
Get a Foot in the Door With Gateway Products
“[We] scale our membership by utilizing what I call gateway products (short training products) which lead logically to the need to join the membership. This helped us to grow one of our memberships from a low of 183 subscribers to over 1,200 subscribers within 12 months.” — JH
Tracking Your Membership Metrics
To make smarter decisions, get an objective look at your membership site. Consider these strategies to check in on your members and/or your site’s performance.
“[We] monitor whether members are opening emails so we can intervene to make sure we’re not about to lose a paying member.” — JH
“My emails that I send to members often end in a question or feedback request. Based on how often they respond to my emails, I can better understand their engagement and enjoyment of the site.” — RB
Facebook Group Engagement
“I’ve recently started using a tool called Grytics for Facebook group management, and it has increased engagement and interaction a lot; it helps us to post into the [Facebook] group, check analytics, and engage with particular members.” — DM
Understand Your Data
“Understanding your MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue), LTV (Lifetime Value of a customer) and CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) is vital. To be a viable subscription business over the long term, you need your LTV:CAC ratio to be at least 3:1 (the most successful membership sites have their LTV:CAC ratio at or above 8:1).” — EN
While recurring revenue is great, make sure you’re not selling yourself short. Consider using these strategies to earn even more income.
“Take a few extra hours to really think about the entire customer journey from your free stuff to your low-ticket stuff to your higher-ticket stuff, and think about how they build on each other and how you can cross-promote them all. Think about what you already have that is doing well, and think about how you can add on a $7 per month or $17 per month additional tool to that.“ — RG
Tools > Information
“When creating your offer, focus on selling TOOLS rather than information. They have a much higher perceived value.” — J&S
Use Membership Levels
“Tier your membership site, offering different levels of access based on price. Since I offer job search coaching, I want my members to have full access so I don’t tier my members. However, I am developing leadership courses as the next phase of my site and will be offering a tiered membership based on the level of leadership coaching needed. I also upsell by offering 1:1 coaching. Even though my members get a special rate, it’s still an additional way I get revenue. As a member, they also receive first access to any new program I launch, which is a great way for me to gauge how well a new program may sell and potentially presell a new course or coaching program.” — RB
Charge an Upfront Fee
“I feel the small upfront fee is important because it attracts the right type of customer. People who are willing to invest a little bit upfront tend to be more serious and committed for the long term.” — MK
Do’s and Don’t Of Membership Sites
Finally, these experts share a few things you should and should not do when it comes to membership sites.
Don’t Worry About the Competition
“Don’t worry if there are other courses out there — that’s a sign there’s a need for it, and nobody will produce a course with your unique teachings and content.” — DM
Do It on Your Own Terms
“DO IT [create a membership site], but do it on your terms. There is no one-size-fits-all model for membership.” — RG
Don’t Be in It for the Money
“Don’t go into building a membership site for the money. Instead, go into it to genuinely help people, and you’ll find the money will follow you.” — MK
Do Only Focus on a Couple of Things
“Do one or two things, and do them really well. Over the years we have trimmed our products as we were trying to be everything to everyone. The result was that our members felt overwhelmed with information and choices. Refining our products means a simpler sign-up process and less confusion. It also means less work for us.” — T&N
Don’t Get Swept Up by Shiny New Things
“Don’t get plagued with shiny object syndrome. All too often we work super hard just spreading ourselves thin with nothing major to show for it. Instead, do what matters to build your audience, and then offer them something they want.” — MK
Do Give It a Shot
“Just do it! You will learn so much about yourself in the process (i.e., how much knowledge you actually have that people are willing to pay you for) and smash through plenty of your own limiting beliefs.” — BN