THE MEMBERSHIP SITE BLUEPRINT
 
A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO GENERATING PASSIVE INCOME WITH A MEMBERSHIP SITE
What is a Membership Site?
 
A membership site is a website containing premium content to which customers subscribe. Membership site content often comes in the form of training or educational courses, resources on a specific topic, community forums where like-minded individuals connect, or specific discounts and perks.

While you may recognize this business model from giants like LinkedIn Learning, Amazon Prime and Netflix, membership subscriptions are actually a viable option for the small business market as well.

In fact, it’s common for niche experts, coaches, consultants, bloggers, and one-on-one service providers to turn their existing useful knowledge into videos, courses or downloadable resources to create a membership site — thereby expanding their business to a mass audience.  
Why Should I Invest in a Membership Site?

Whether you’re an entrepreneur with an established web presence, blogger with a strong following, or an educator with insights to offer there are a number of ways adding a membership component can help you earn more money and use your time more efficiently. 

If you currently offer one-on-one services, membership sites allow you to use your existing expertise at scale so you can serve more people than you possibly could in an eight-hour work day. If you’re offering a membership site as an add-on to your existing product or service, such as creating a community forum or discounts access, you’re adding value for your customers with little to no extra labor on your part.

The recurring revenue you receive is well worth the effort you put in up front: Let’s say you had a mere 100 members paying you $30 a month. Even if you stop earning new customers, you're looking at $3,000 in monthly recurring revenue.
 
Earning Passive, Recurring Revenue

Running a membership site allows you to stop trading hours for dollars and start earning a relatively passive, recurring cash flow. You only have to create the content once, then you can sell it forever using a release model of your choice. No inventory to buy or store, nothing to ship, and once it’s done, your marginal costs are low.
Encouraging User Interaction

Membership sites enable members to leave comments on your pages, thus opening the floor for interactivity through which you can foster customer relationships and communities.
The Ability to Instantly Update Your Programs

Update your site and course modules with new, relevant information on-the-fly. Gone are the days of having to create a whole new version of your product, to have it printed and shipped anew.
Easily Publishing Your Content in One Place

Quickly and easily publish your valuable knowledge, including written content, audio, video and file downloads, in a single, convenient place. Site members then have the ability to log in and consume all your on-demand content whenever it’s convenient. 
The Opportunity to Enrich People’s Lives

As an expert or coach in your particular field or niche, membership sites provide a platform to share that knowledge with others for their betterment. 
Unlimited Opportunities to Scale 

Because nearly every aspect of your site can be automated, you can reach an exponentially higher number of customers through a one-to-many model. This allows you to grow beyond the limitations of one-to-one or one-to-few, with the potential to sell to thousands without any extra labor or alterations necessary on existing your materials — without needing a big team to maintain it.
What to Consider Before Building a Membership Site

While membership sites are certainly a great business model for many, they’re not necessarily for everyone. Read through the common membership site hurdles below, and ask yourself if you’re willing to overcome them:


Producing High-Quality Content Takes Time
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Membership sites are content-heavy projects, requiring lots of time to write, design, produce and publish lessons, instructions, web pages, email copy, and more.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
The Software Can Be Complex, Difficult and Expensive at Times

Membership software varies in price, ease of use, customer service offerings, and overall feature capabilities. Before you start your membership site, it’s important that you spend the time upfront to ensure you choose the right tools that will set you up for future success.


It Requires Ongoing Maintenance and Customer Service

Because technology is constantly changing, depending on the platform or tools you choose, you may need to update or upgrade them over time. Additionally, the content itself may not be timeless and require updates over time. But perhaps the biggest factor to consider concerning daily or weekly maintenance is your customers’ satisfaction: They may want to ask you questions, lose their passwords or want a refund, and when any of this happens, it’s your job to respond.

Those are just a few factors to take into account when contemplating launching a membership site. There are plenty of benefits but, you need to be willing to roll up your sleeves and put in some work to get the ball rolling.
The Goal of This Blueprint
This blueprint will walk you through the ins and outs of building and running a membership site from polishing your offer to collecting recurring payments from customers. 

The Membership Sites Blueprint will familiarize you with membership sites and help you determine if one can fit into your business model and how your business can benefit from having one. You'll have the opportunity to take a critical look at your product and your market to make sure that you’re ready for a sustainable and scalable membership site. By the time you are done reading this blueprint, you’ll have a firm grasp on your next steps to building a profitable membership site of your own.

 
Table of Contents
CHAPTER ONE
Membership Site Basics
Learn about the variety of membership site types and what each one entails.advantages and disadvantages.
CHAPTER TWO
Planning Your Membership Site Content
Determining your membership site’s purpose and goal upfront will help you to plan site content that appeals to your target market. Here’s how to get started.
CHAPTER THREE
The Pages Every Membership Site Needs
Without these fundamental pages and features, your membership site is just a website. Here are the top four must-haves.
CHAPTER FOUR
The User Experience
A great user experience reflects on your brand. Here’s what to consider when crafting yours.
CHAPTER FIVE
User Retention Strategies
Getting new members is critical to your site’s growth, but retaining your existing members is even more so. Here’s how to reduce churn on your membership site.
CHAPTER SIX
Managing Payments
Now that you’ve determined your site’s content and how you’ll deliver it, you’re ready to monetize it.
CHAPTER SEVEN
Selecting a Platform That’s Right for You
There’s a lot to consider when selecting your membership software. Use these checklists to ensure your platform covers everything you need.
CHAPTER ONE
 
MEMBERSHIP SITE BASICS
If you've ever stood outside a closed door flaunting a "members only" sign dying to know what was behind it, you already understand the appeal of membership and exclusivity. Plain and simple, a membership site is a website that people join in order to gain access to exclusive “members only” content, features, benefits, or community. Protected by a username and password, membership sites allow you, the business owner and content creator, to share or sell your digital content and wares in one place.

Membership sites are commonly used by business owners who have expert knowledge on a topic and want to provide it via online content to a large audience. With the right in-demand content — whether it’s instructional videos, evergreen tutorials, live webinars, niche-specific membership communities, or other — a membership site can offer tremendous value to your target audiences, thereby providing you with a source of passive, recurring revenue.
Membership Sites Take Many Forms

There are a number of different types of membership sites to choose from, each offering a unique way for you to deliver your valuable content on your own terms. It's up to you to decide if one of these would serve the needs of your business and if it's sustainable, factoring into your decision your time and resources. 

The vast majority of successful membership sites fall into one of these five categories:
Training Sites

Training sites are designed to teach clients and members how to do something, gain a skill, or simply make a better life for themselves. For instance, a chef may offer one or more online cooking courses, each broken into multiple lessons. With a training membership site, you may choose to make the content accessible via a monthly subscription or perhaps per individual training courses.

LearningHerbs Founder John Gallagher discovered a largely untapped niche in the online education market prompting him to launch a number of evergreen courses on herbs ranging from beginner to expert.
Modular Course

Training is divided into smaller modules for students to progress at their own pace. When a student concludes a lesson, they unlock access to the next one.
Evergreen

All courses and lessons are unlocked upon payment, giving students the freedom to choose their own learning path.
Drip

New lessons and course materials are released to students on a fixed schedule.
Evergreen

All courses and lessons are unlocked upon payment, giving students the freedom to choose their own learning path.
LinkedIn Learning’s evergreen course structure features thousands of business, creative and technology courses taught by industry experts, complete with personalized recommendations and mobile access.
Digital Product Delivery

Digital product delivery is a username/password-oriented way to deliver digital products including videos, podcasts or PDFs. Many membership sites in this realm provide resources that help members accomplish a certain goal. For example, a fitness blog may offer something like meal plans and workout videos to help its members stay in peak physical condition.


While this type of site doesn’t call for a lot of maintenance, it’s best to keep members coming back for more by making fresh content available as time allows.​​​​​​​
Sites like RunningRestaurant.com offer a stockpile of digital downloads that assist members in running an independent business — in this instance, a restaurant.
Slender Kitchen offers fully customizable or ready-to-go meal plan downloads that you can create and choose once logged into the site.
Blogs

Membership blogs provide access to specialized content of a particular niche or interest. While many companies’ blogs are open and accessible to anyone, if you find yourself producing content and videos for your blog that are bringing in thousands of views but no profit, it may be time to monetize it.

Take online publications like The Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review, for example: They’ve turned their popular sites into subscription plans to monetize the content, while still allowing viewers to see limited portions of it before buying.
The Wall Street Journal’s membership blog offers readers unlimited access to the site’s content, mobile and tablet apps, podcast interviews, and benefits program.​​​​​
This model isn’t limited to just the big players. Smaller, niche businesses like Reflexion Yoga, a subscription company powered by WordPress, have also found success with membership blogs. Especially for smaller companies, the best way to succeed is by updating your membership site blog frequently with fresh content.

Reflexion Yoga uses WordPress to deliver a wide variety of yoga courses to students on any device.
Event Management

Event management membership sites are an easy way for members to log in and get updates, lessons, plans and docs surrounding events such as conferences, meetups or livestreams. Such content is generally prepared far in advance and dripped out on a fixed schedule in the time leading up to an event to prepare attendees for what’s to come.

ONTRAPORT’s annual modern marketing summit, ONTRApalooza (OPLZA), offers a detailed website and mobile app for attendees to keep up on the event’s 45+ live sessions, announcements, meetups and parties.
Society for Technical Communication is a membership platform on which members can watch a variety of live webinars, summit sessions and more.
Online Community

Once a business has amassed a substantial enough following, an online community membership site may be the next logical step. Not only does an online community give members the ability to interact with a collective of like-minded individuals, they get to correspond with you — the business owner. 
Such communities not only encourage members to openly share their knowledge with one another, but they also act as a support platform for customers to share their similar challenges, questions and concerns. An online community is the ideal platform for business owners to tease upcoming releases, gather feedback, and offer special deals to their audience.

Kayla Itsines is a membership site that not only offers personalized workout and meal plans, but also hosts a popular community called “Sweat Forum."
Each of Skillshare’s courses is complete with a forum for users to share their work and thoughts.
To Sum It All Up

The idea for any kind of membership site is that people will pay you for the rights to access content that you create or curate. They send you money (or something else of value to you) and in return you send them the credentials to log in and start consuming your content.

Make Your Membership Site’s User Experience (UX) Seamless So Members Keep Coming Back 
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CHAPTER TWO
 
PLANNING YOUR MEMBERSHIP SITE CONTENT
A membership site isn’t something you can duct tape together in a weekend. Before investing your time, energy and money into producing your membership site, it’s important to spend some time upfront researching and planning to ensure that the content you produce aligns with your business’s purpose and goal and attracts an audience.
Determine Your Site’s Purpose and Goal

When it comes to nailing down the purpose and goal behind your membership site, your decision will ultimately be most successful if you consider your target audience’s interests, wants and needs.

Considering the following factors will help you fine-tune your purpose and goal, assess the demand for what you’re offering, and help provide you with a blueprint to guide the construction of your site. The more precise your knowledge is in each of these areas, the greater the value you’ll provide to your members. 



Assess the Current Market for Your Niche

Entering a market blind can result in a number of problems post-launch, including not being able to differentiate your business from the competition or, worst case scenario, not having any customers in your market at all. Here are some ways to feel out the current market for your niche:
Are there currently other successful sites in your industry?
Are there many popular Facebook groups, blogs or conferences on the subject?
Are there many YouTube videos on the subject?
Do keyword research to find out how many people are searching for related keywords on Google.
Search Google for those keywords and note the AdWords competition and top search results.
Quick Tip: As you research, make a list of all the most popular pages and sites. Note whether there are opportunities to advertise on the blogs, partner with other content providers, and whether there are Facebook pages with enough followers that you can target them. 


How Do People Solve Their Problem Today?

Businesses are created to solve a problem, and your membership site is no different. For example, if you’re an expert in fitness and diet advice like Kayla Itsines, you might solve customers’ problems with health, lifestyle, confidence and weight.

Think about what problem your site will solve, then think about which resources the average person currently uses to overcome it: 
Browsing the internet for useful websites
Hiring personal tutors, consultants or trainers
Reading books
Taking classes in school
Joining a club or support group
Once you’ve determined some of the most popular sources potential customers currently use to solve their problems in your niche, it’s time to start thinking about how you can become competitive in this market.
What Is Your Site’s Purpose and Goal?

Now that you’ve assessed your target market, you can determine how you want to angle your content to solve their biggest problems within your niche: this is your site’s purpose and goal.

To do this, imagine yourself in the shoes of your ideal prospects, surveying the landscape of possible solutions to their problem. They may be doing Google searches, buying books, signing up for classes or joining clubs or support groups — use this knowledge to help you decide the format of your membership site. If a person would usually sign up for a class, you might fill your site with a series of courses or lectures. If a person would usually join a club or support group, you might consider adding a community feature to your site.
You also may want to consider how your membership site can make solving their problem easier than before. Does your online course allow your customers to take a class from home that would normally have to be in person? Is there something about the way your site is formatted that makes the information easier to find than other existing sources? Knowing your membership site’s edge over the competition is essential to winning over the market.


Pricing Your Membership Product
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Pricing is a very complex subject: Selling too cheaply undermines your brand, your ability to advertise and your profit margins, but asking too much can price out entire groups of potential customers
Q & A sessions
Live broadcasts (e.g., podcasts, videocasts or webinars) 
Discussion boards
Quizzes and surveys
Standalone Content

Once created, this content should require little work on your part, with the exception of keeping it up-to-date. Within this category are: 
Downloadable PDFs
Case studies
Workbooks
Videos
Audio recordings
 
Tip: Keep in mind that the wider variety of media types you include on your site, the more you enhance the user’s enjoyment and comprehension of the material. Numerous studies have proven that people learn in different ways so, when possible, make text, audio and video versions of your lessons.
Organizing Your Content

The way you organize your content can make or break your buyers’ experience. Help your customers succeed by investing thought into clean site organization and a clear flow of ideas that are easy to find and navigate.
Mapping

A membership site calls for a sound foundation. You wouldn't build a house without a blueprint, and you shouldn’t launch a content-driven site without mapping it out first. We find it’s best to map out exactly what your site will look like — pages, content and all. 

If you’re using the site to teach
Start with an outline of everything you want to cover in your courses, then list and order the key lessons, broken up into bite-sized chunks. 
Fill in each lesson with detail. Add introductions and summaries to each lesson. Tell your readers what you’re going to deliver, deliver it, then send them a summary of what you delivered.
Make your content even easier to understand by adding examples and anecdotes. Consider adding a quiz to further reinforce key points.
Worksheets, checklists and cheat sheets are always helpful and appreciated.
Delivering Content

When deciding how you’ll deliver your membership site’s content, there are several models to take into consideration:
Fixed term

Member gets access to x content. The fixed term model offers a highly profitable opportunity in that you can update your content over time and add extra media or tools. That accumulation of bonus content on top of your existing content can be amalgamated into a premium product that you sell separately at a higher price. 
Tiered

The standard “the more you pay, the more you get” model offers levels of access such as Silver, Gold and Platinum packages. They are tiered in that they offer more the higher the level of access. For instance, platinum gets access to all gold level content but gold level doesn't get access to platinum material.
Content vertical

Each piece of content or bundle of content is unique to each level of access. For example, a fitness training site might offer a separate vertical package for members who are interested in yoga workouts vs. members interested in pilates.
Sequential (Drip)

Lessons and course materials are released to members on a fixed schedule. Depending on your content creation and release strategy, you could either drip brand new content on a weekly or monthly basis, or slowly release your already-existing content to members as they reach course milestones.
Wallstreet I/O retains members with its daily stock updates, stock & option online university, three times a week live trainings and full-blown financial social network utilizing a highly advantageous combination of the delivery models above.
CHAPTER THREE
 
THE PAGES EVERY MEMBERSHIP SITE NEEDS
Without the following fundamental pages and features, your membership site is just a website. Here are the five must-have pages subscribers will expect:

Must-Haves for All Membership Sites

Login Page

Your member login page is the first thing customers will see every time they visit your site, so making it a clear and easy experience is essential to keep them coming back. Make the page simple and clean, with only login information and no distractions, like the member login page for Book More Brides.

For a simplified customer experience, make sure there’s a clear differentiation between your login and registration fields, make password recovery easy, and allow customers to use email addresses as usernames to minimize the chance of users forgetting their login information.

Membership Content Home Page

Your home page is the entryway to every piece of content on your membership site. Whether the member has access to every section of your site or not, use this space to showcase what they do (and could) have. This is where you’re selling the content within the site and getting your members to engage, which is crucial for retaining them as members. Entice them to click through and participate in your offerings with catchy descriptions and CTAs.

Headspace, a meditation app, welcomes members with a clean content home page that prompts them to select a meditation category.

Content Pages

Content pages are the meat of your membership site. Depending on the type of site you’re running, your content pages will vary. For example, if you run a membership site with video course trainings, it’s not as simple as putting your video on the page: In addition, you also must include an attention-grabbing headline, a course description, and perhaps even a video transcript and summary of information covered. By taking the few extra steps, your members will get much more out of your site, making them more likely to stick around for more.


Account Settings

The more you can get customers to serve themselves, the happier you’re going to be in the long run. Allowing users access to a customer center where they can update their usernames, passwords, billing info and view their past invoices, saves you a ton of time in providing support later on. Additional options might be upgrading, downgrading or canceling their accounts, if applicable to your membership model.
Terms of use

Your terms of use explain the obligations between you and your customers and divulge any usage rules you’ve set.
Privacy policy

​​​​​​​Because your membership website will collect personal customer and payment information, you’ll need to disclose how you gather that information, what you intend to do with it, and how you’ll protect it. 
Refund policy

For every product you sell, you should have a refund policy. A refund policy instills buyer confidence and assures potential customers that you take their satisfaction seriously.
Privacy policy

Because your membership website will collect personal customer and payment information, you’ll need to disclose how you gather that information, what you intend to do with it, and how you’ll protect it. 

The Pages You Need to Run a Successful
Membership Site 
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CHAPTER FOUR
 
THE USER EXPERIENCE

Take some time to carefully consider your user experience throughout the process of signing up, logging in and interacting with your membership site. Getting the details right adds tremendously to the sense of quality your product delivers. 

Signing Up

Signing up should be a smooth and simple process. Don’t ask for more information than you need. If you’re charging for access, ensure the order form is clear, works quickly and delivers good feedback when the user has problems (e.g., error messages for declined cards or an invalid email address).

Check out Reflexion Yoga’s signup form. It’s clean, easy on the eyes, and doesn’t tack on any unnecessary form fields. The bare essentials are key.
Logging In and Passwords

Look at any modern membership site and you’ll notice that the login button is almost always in the same place: in the main navigation menu (which often scrolls dynamically down the page). Your login button should be easy to find, and the login experience that follows should be quick and smooth. 
 
How Do Your Members Log In?

There are a number of login options you can feature on your membership site, each with their own perks and drawbacks. You may choose to only offer one method, but it’s becoming standard practice to offer a combination of those below.

Guitar Tricks utilizes a hybrid login form allowing members to enter either a username or email along with their password.
Username and password

With this login option, users are required to create both a unique username and password in order to log in.
Email and password

A standard option for most web and mobile apps, this login option asks users for an existing email address and unique password to access their account. This option is great for users who have difficulty remembering both usernames and passwords.
Social login

Increasingly prevalent, social login grants users access to your site using existing social media account IDs, such as Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. With no registration forms to fill out and no login credentials to remember, this option is the easiest option for users who already own social media accounts.
Privacy policy

Because your membership website will collect personal customer and payment information, you’ll need to disclose how you gather that information, what you intend to do with it, and how you’ll protect it. 
How Do Members Manage Their Passwords?

How the user creates or receives their password and how they reset it when they forget it reflects on the overall usability of your site. This is an easy area to overlook and can lead to user frustration and a pileup of support issues for you.

Here are a few things to consider when setting up your member sign-up:
Setting a password
When a customer signs up, do they get a system-generated password, or do they select their own? 
Can they easily change it? 
Recover their lost password
Do you have a system in place that’s able to recover/reset lost passwords both manually and automatically?
Change/reset their password
If your customers want to change/reset their password, can they do it easily right from the website? 
What if they call in and want to change it?
Some other choices you’ll have to make are whether to have a ‘Remember Me’ option where you cookie your members upon login and what your username/password recovery protocol will be when users forget their login.
Site Navigation

Before you begin to build out your membership site, it’s essential to take the time upfront to fully map it out. Your content, design and URLs are all bound to your site navigation, so the better it’s laid out, the more intuitive your user experience will be.
Because search engines look for intuitiveness when they crawl your site, ease of use not only makes or breaks customer retention, it affects traffic to your site and SEO ranking as well.

Marketing expert Neil Patel says, “Your top header should list out your main pages. That’s it. Make sure that pages, especially important ones, aren’t buried too deep within the site. Shallow sites work better, both from a usability and crawler perspective.”

“Your top header should list out your main pages. That’s it. Make sure that pages, especially important ones, aren’t buried too deep within the site. Shallow sites work better, both from a usability and crawler perspective.”

- Neil Patel
Personalization

Personalization is all about improving the user experience and making members feel valued by providing each one with dynamic content that is unique to them. The more personal your relationships with members feel, the more likely they will be to stick around when it comes time to renew their memberships.

Consider how you’ll be able to deliver a personalized experience on your membership site. You can make personalized product recommendations based on member history or even create members-only content visible only to users of a particular access level



Redirects

Even with your site navigation and login optimized, URLs on your site may change, and users may occasionally accidentally enter the wrong URL when looking for your content. Errors happen and, when they do, you’ll be glad you have pages in place to cover your bases. Redirect acts are safeguards to prevent member confusion and disorientation.

If you can control where your members land after they login and where non-members land if they try to access a members-only page, consider implementing a dedicated page for each of the following:
404 error

When a web page of your domain does not exist on the server

No access

When a member with limited access tries to see a restricted page (This is a great opportunity to offer your members the opportunity to upgrade their account for access to this page.)
​​​​​​​


​​​​​​​Not logged in
​​​​​​​

When a member or non-member tries to access protected content while not logged in
Invalid password

When an invalid password is entered


Bounced/expired card

When a member’s card expires and they, therefore, are no longer granted acces
CHAPTER FIVE
 
USER RETENTION STRATEGIES
The key to any enduring membership site is retention — a steady influx of customers combined with a relatively low churn rate. While getting new members to join should undoubtedly be a main focus, a sustainable membership model depends on a low churn rate because it ensures recurring income.
 
According to Recurly Research, the average overall monthly churn rate is 6.73% — meaning that you would have to gain at least that many new customers per month just to sustain your business, and that doesn’t count growth. For that reason, Entrepreneurs Journey says attrition, or members leaving your site, “is one of the greatest challenges that membership site owners face.” The leading cause for customer churn cited in The 2017 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report is “lack of engagement with the organization.”
 
The good news is, there are a number of useful strategies you can employ to keep users on board and engaged with your site well after they’ve joined:
Tease Upcoming Content

To build anticipation around your soon-to-be-released content, give members a glimpse of what’s coming with teasers via email and social media. This incentivizes them to stick around and builds organic buzz that’s sure to spread to non-members.

If you plan on using drip content functionality, you’ll do well to incrementally leak blocks of your new content — also known as cliffhanger content — to eager members. Leave them with an unfinished piece, and they’ll come back for the rest.
Grant Early Access

If, like the rest of us, Amazon is your online shopping go-to, you’ve surely noticed Lightning Deals on featured items peppered throughout the site. These are time-sensitive and sell out quickly. Early access to these deals is one of many reasons it pays to upgrade to Prime, Amazon’s exclusive membership. For Amazon Prime customers, a membership guarantees a 30-minute heads-up period in which members get priority access to flash sale items before the general public.
Offer Discounts

Think of your membership site as a rewards program — the longer your customers are members, the more perks they get.

If you’re pursuing a paid membership model, discounts can be a great retention tool, but beware; emphasizing them too strongly may undermine the the value of your offer.

Here’s an effective discount idea: If your membership site boasts multiple tiered membership levels, offer an upgrade at a discounted rate to mid and low-tier members. Customers love being rewarded for their loyalty. They pay less and gain more value from a worthy product or service while you’ve effectively locked in new recurring income.
Reactivate Dark Users

Reactivation, also called re-engagement, is a technique used to reach out to the people who have previously expressed interest, purchased, or otherwise engaged with your company but have since “gone dark” or disengaged. The goal is to encourage them to become active again. You can monitor your members’ usage and target those who’ve disengaged with emails explaining your new content or features that might entice them to come back.

Send Payment Decline and Card Expiration Reminders

Don’t count on your members to update their payment information on their own. Should a credit card on a renewed subscription fail, send your member a friendly notification to update their credit card with simple instructions on how to do so. The same goes for expired cards. The key is to gently press the issue before the card expires so that members have a seamless experience and stay engaged with your site. If their card expires or is declined and they don’t update it, ultimately you’ll need to revoke their membership, which is not your goal.


Spotlight Your Members

Acknowledging your members is a surefire way to heighten their sense of belonging. There are a number of creative ways you can make members feel loved and appreciated.

For instance, Online dating giant Match.com will spotlight the dating profiles of select members (with permission) for up to two weeks on its site. Members are incentivized to stick around by being offered more exposure in the dating pool.

You can also try this: Recognize new sign-ups by name, thereby publicly inducting them as new members. What better first experience than a warm, personal welcome? 

Host Contests/Giveaways

A well-designed contest or free giveaway can be a great way to keep your community engaged and strengthen loyalty to your brand. Contests are fun; there’s little to nothing at stake, and you stand to win something.
 
Retailer Neiman Marcus hosted a photo contest in which customers could win ascension to a higher tier of membership by submitting a photo of themselves on Instagram with a caption professing their love of the brand.
 
You don’t need to be a high-profile retailer to pull this off. Your contests can be small and even limited to certain membership levels. Here are some ideas:
Award a gift card to whomever leaves the best comment on a post.
Host a photo contest related to your product.

Stir Up Your User Forum

Encourage your members to leave comments on your posts and/or forums. It’s the best way to instill a sense of community while engaging your audience. Make sure to respond to every comment, because doing so elicits two critical responses:

Encourages members to comment because they know you’ll respond to them
Shows your members that you care about them and what they have to say

Be sure to moderate all comments and remove spam. Allowing spammy comments in your forums/comment sections is an easy way to annoy your members and ruin the authority of your site.


Offer a Cancellation Survey

Seeing members go isn’t fun and leaves you wondering why they lost interest or if you’ve failed them somehow. There’s a lot of power in knowing when your members are dropping off and why, and building a voluntary exit survey into your cancellation process can give you those answers. Keep it short; phrase all questions non-aggressively and offer a write-in option to up your odds of getting responses. Most importantly, welcome all criticism; it’s the best way to improve your product.

Gamify the Membership Experience

Gamification is not about creating games for the sake of it but rather about adding the elements that make games so much fun (points, levels, challenges, competition, etc.) to an underlying customer interaction in order to make the experience more exciting and engaging.

By gamifying your membership area, your site automatically becomes more appealing, which incentivizes users to log in more often and spend more time interacting with your content.

For example, Fitbit is a goal-oriented app that offers badges and competition with friends to encourage users to take their fitness to the next level.


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CHAPTER SIX
 
MANAGING PAYMENTS
Now that you know  the value your membership site will deliver and how you’ll deliver it, you’ll have to pick one of two paths: Keep your membership content free as a means of promoting your business or flagship product OR monetize your site by putting your content behind a paywall. 
Charging for Access 
Subscriptions

If you’re planning on constantly adding time-relevant content to your membership site, a subscription model may be the way to go. You may also take this route should you offer an ongoing web-based service. Remember, a subscription membership will not retain customers well if your content is stagnant, so the more often you add to it, the better. 
Flat Fee

If you have fully completed courses at hand or an extensive catalogue of existing evergreen content, you might consider charging a flat one-time fee for a lifetime membership. A proven method of gaining members is to make content freely available until you’ve amassed an audience, then launch a premium paid membership with even better content. 
Payment Plan

A great method for making expensive fixed term membership courses more accessible to the masses, payment plans cater to members who couldn’t otherwise afford your product. It allows them instant access to your goods, which they pay for in installments. 
Upgrading and Downgrading Memberships

The membership levels you create signify the levels of access that your members have when logging into and navigating your site. Consider the membership level options below based on the content delivery model you selected in chapter two (fixed term, tiered, content vertical, sequential):
Will I charge one set price for members or create a graduated membership structure where each higher level of membership costs progressively more?
Will there be a free level to get people “in the door”?
Can members upgrade or downgrade their membership level themselves?
If I offer multiple membership levels, how many total will there be?
What will the membership levels be called? Bronze, silver and gold? Good, better, best?
Will I upsell existing members to a higher membership level?
Managing Declined and Expired Cards

A major pain point plaguing subscription businesses today is handling bad cards — whether they’re maxed out or expired. Implementing a card expiration and decline follow-up process into your membership site payment management system can make all the difference and keep your members’ recurring payments running smoothly.​​​
Handling Expired Cards

Every credit card eventually expires, but that doesn’t have to mean losing subscribers or income. In order to get customers to update their cards as seamlessly as possible, you’ll want to have a process ready. This process should take into account what happens when a card is about to expire: Will you warn users in advance that their card is going to expire? Can you retry cards automatically?

Once their card expires, at what point do they lose access to your content? And once they’ve been locked out, can they update their cards by themselves to regain access?


Handling Declined Cards

When it comes to cards declining, you need a process and a system to manage the follow-up process. This could result in a major loss of time and money, but it doesn’t have to. Shutting off membership access after a set number of days and sending automated emails telling your customers to update their card information are among some of the best practices for handling this.
Cancels

Over time, some members may lose interest or can no longer pay ongoing fees to keep access to your site. Make sure you have a system in place to handle cancellation requests. Some systems allow members to cancel their subscription right from an interface, and then future payments are stopped and access is blocked. When building your site, consider whether you want members to be able to cancel by themselves, how easy your cancellation process is, and if your system makes this process flexible.
Losing a customer doesn’t have to be a total loss for your business. Though losing business does sting, there are retargeting and follow-up strategies you can use to lure them back in, and surveys you can send out to learn their motivation for canceling. 


Refunds

As with any product, you’ll need to create a refund policy to protect yourself and your customers. This is especially true of the digital products on your membership site. A refund policy shows that your business is customer friendly, which builds good rapport, instills trust, and ultimately leads to more conversions.

When forming your policy, you’ll want to think about your process for issuing refunds, how customers can request them, and next steps such as disabling membership access and notifying the customer of their successful refund.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN
 
SELECTING A PLATFORM 
THAT’S

RIGHT FOR YOU

Now that you’re acquainted with the ins and outs of launching, maintaining and monetizing a membership site, you’re ready to choose a platform that fills the role you need.


Features and Functionality to Consider

No two membership platforms are the same. In this section, you’ll be guided through a series of checklists, each designed to help you narrow down the desired features and functionality essential to your business. Run through each list as you shop around for membership platforms and plugins. 

Ease of Use for the Business Owner

Content Management
You would like the ability to:

Easily publish text, images, audio and video
Easily update and edit already-posted content
Embed media on your pages
Show or hide sections or lessons within your site

Permission Management
It’s important that your site can:

Drip content to members over a set period of time
Easily add and remove members, both automatically and manually
Control where your members land after they log in
Control where non-members land if they try to access a members-only page
Offer a tiered membership functionality
Remove a member’s access to your site
Pause users’ access to your content based on a trigger, or manually (if, for example, a customer’s card is expired or declined for over a month)

Design and Layout
You want your membership platform to offer:

Page templates
A WYSIWYG page editor
Page layout and design customization
Easy page content rearrangement without web development expertise
A drag-and-drop editor
A theme
User friendly page customization

Payment Features
Your software needs the following order processing features:

Ecommerce functionality
Trial memberships
Payment plans
Subscription billing
Free trials

Customer Payment Management
Your membership platform should be able to:

Process cancellations
Notify members of card declines
Suspend membership access upon credit card decline
Notify members of impending credit card expirations
Suspend membership access upon credit card expiration
Issue refunds

Support
Your software needs to:

Have support representatives that are reachable via chat, phone or email
Assign a dedicated support representative
Have 24-hour support available
Have a developer community associated with your platform

Ease of Use for Members

Signing Up

Your platform needs to offer:

Simple and clear sign-up options

Order forms that
  • Are clear and easy to understand  
  • Can be customized to match your brand
  • Work quickly  
  • Account for errors​​​

Logging In
Your platform should offer:

Login through social media
A system-generated password when a new member signs up
  • An option for members to change it
Password recovery
The ability to easily change or reset member’s passwords through the site

A username/password widget or easy way for members to log in to your site

The option to pick their own password as a new customer before logging in
Resetting of lost passwords both manually and automatically

Navigation
Your platform should offer:

Dynamic menus that stay pinned as you scroll
Dropdown menus
The option to create error pages and redirects

Hamburger menus to hide all your filtering options

Flexibility in labeling and organizing your menus

Integrations
Your membership software needs to:

Integrate with other third party software
Work well with other plugins (if it’s WordPress)
Allow you to activate integrations without web development experience

Integrate with your CRM

Integrate with WordPress (if it’s not WordPress)

Other Considerations (Social, Community and Gamification)
Your membership platform:

Integrate with other third party software
Work well with other plugins (if it’s WordPress)
Allow you to activate integrations without web development experience

Integrate with your CRM

Integrate with WordPress (if it’s not WordPress)

The Main Players

When you’re selecting your membership site software, there are two main categories to consider: Sites built with WordPress and plugins and sites built on a standalone membership platform. Here are the pros and cons associated with each one: 


WordPress Membership Plugins

Because of its price, flexibility and broad selection of membership plugins, WordPress is one of the most common choices for entrepreneurs launching their first membership site. According to MemberPress, WordPress is a “serious (yet easy to use) Content Management System that will allow you to structure your website however you want. It has a sophisticated system for categorizing and tagging content, and has a huge repository of free plugins.” 

Here are some examples of plugins to build and manage your membership site if you use WordPress:
 

AccessAlly
Unlimited courses
Customers can manage their payment and password information
Secure file hosting: video files, PDFs, etc.
Automated log-in credential delivery via email upon new member sign-up
Integrates with any WordPress theme
Drip release functionality for content

WishList Member

Unlimited membership levels
Drip release functionality for content
Automatic membership level upgrades
Free trials and paid memberships
Takes membership payments via PayPal and ClickBank
Shows or hides individual pieces of content from non-members
Automatically restricts access upon membership expiration
Pilot Press
Affiliate Network with customized login and reporting
Customer care center for handling purchases and subscriptions
Insert ONTRAPORT  forms
Membership site access levels and protected content 
Sign up forms that create contacts
Track page views with ONTRAPORT
Merge fields for logged-in users

Zippy Courses

Integrates with various CRMs such as AWeber, MailChimp, ONTRAPORT and Infusionsoft
Premium support and updates for 12 months
Restricts or limits content with smart widgets
Compatible with most WordPress themes
Accepts payments via Stripe and Paypal

Standalone Membership Platforms

An alternative to WordPress membership plugins, standalone membership platforms allow you to build a plug-and-play site without plugins.

Although the simplicity of setting up these sites is tempting, it’s important to note that you do lose a great deal of flexibility and customization opportunities when operating on a standalone membership platform. These also often don’t integrate as seamlessly with your CRM and automation tools to enable seamless customer data and experiences.


Domains

Whether you are starting a website for your business for the first time or want to make your membership site separate from your business site, you’ll need to procure a domain name. A domain name is what users will type into the URL search bar to find your website. For example, in the URL https://ontraport.com/blog/, “ontraport” is the domain name.

Web Hosting

Often a more economical option, many web hosts offer domain name registration as a supplemental service which eliminates the need for a separate domain registrar. 

With that in mind, when it comes to web hosting for your membership site, you’ll find yourself with three concrete options
Current website

This makes the membership site an extension of your current site and not a separate site entirely. Be sure to make your website brand-friendly and ensure that any new plugins don’t interfere with existing plugins on your site.
Subdomain

This is where you share your hosting resources with the membership site, but the membership site becomes its own entity. For example, it will have a url of subdomain.maindomain.com. 
Completely new site

This is the most common, partly due to the freedom it provides. It is essentially a blank canvas with which you can create a whole different style if needed.

To Sum It Up

You now have a broad understanding of what a membership site is and how it can benefit you, your business and your customers. Although it might seem overwhelming at first, follow the concepts outlined in this blueprint to set yourself on the right path to launching your own recurring revenue stream.


Scale Your Business and Earn Recurring Revenue With a Membership Site 
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