How to Create a Membership Website
If you want to create a membership site but you don’t know where to start, start here!
This short roadmap will walk you through your first steps of understanding and building a membership site.
The Completion Level of Your Training.
In this section you’ll learn the basics of starting and running a WordPress membership site.
How this roadmap works
This roadmap is interactive.
1. You can tick and untick the circular checkboxes on each section, and our software will automatically track your progress using the progress bar at the top of the screen.
2. You can select different “tracks” which will change the direction of your course to better suit your needs.
3. You can leave comments at the bottom of all roadmap pages (please do!) and I’ll personally come around and reply. 🙂
If something doesn’t make sense, or there’s some info that the roadmap is missing, PLEASE leave your comment so that I can improve this roadmap not only for you, but for others as well.
4. You can click “NEXT” at the bottom right hand corner of each lesson and it will take you to the next lesson automatically.
Hi, I’m Vic Dorfman!
I’m the founder of MemberFix and your instructor for this course.
Before we dive into the world of membership sites perhaps you’d like to know a bit about my background and why I’m qualified to teach you.
I’ve been working with membership sites for over 6 years now. I started out in online business by writing articles, doing SEO and by building my own membership site about SEO called Smart Keyword Research (now defunct).
I had a few people contact me and ask me to build a membership site for them. I did this for a few people, got some glowing reviews, and the rest is history!
Since then I’ve set up, configured, troubleshooted and otherwise supported hundreds of membership sites! Now my team and I run an unlimited membership site and WordPress support service called MemberFix where we help entrepreneurs delegate their tech overhead to a trusted partner (us!) so they can focus on the fun and profitable aspects of their businesses.
I’m a MemberMouse qualified contractor and I’ve been featured and/or interviewed on various podcasts and websites including Empire Flippers, Conscious Millionaire, and Tropical Entrepreneur (to name just a few)…
When I’m not working on MemberFix or my boutique hosting company, SpeedKills.io, I’m probably writing, playing my guitar, at my Brazilian jiu jitsu academy, or at the beach!
[Report] What you need to know before creating a membership site
To start things off I’ve created a report that will help get you oriented on this topic.
It’s called “What You Need to Know Before Creating a Membership Site”.
To be honest, I really need to update this report again because some of the information is no longer quite relevant.
In particular, I no longer recommend some of the tech that I wrote about.
For an updated overview of membership site tech, please see this article:
- (PDF) What You Need to Know Before Creating a Membership Site Download
A bit of inspiration from 10 successful business owners
I won’t bullshit you, creating a membership site takes a lot of time and effort.
Anybody telling you otherwise is selling you the sizzle with no regards for the steak.
But the results for your business and your lifestyle can be life-changing.
So that’s why I asked 10 business owners with successful subscription businesses to weigh in with their key tips on how to approach the recurring revenue puzzle.
They’ve been through it, so you can learn from their experience.
Membership site economics
In this section you’re going to learn about the monetary aspects of membership sites.
How much income can you earn with a membership site?
The million dollar question!
I’ve seen membership sites that struggle to earn a few hundred bucks a month, and I’ve worked with membership site owners who earn 7 figures a year from their websites.
A lot of factors play into how financially successful your site can be. Let’s discuss the main factors.
Your market / niche choice
Some ponds are better to fish in than others.
A membership site that teaches people how to write songs, for instance, is unlikely to earn anywhere near as much money as a membership site that teaches people how to trade cryptocurrencies.
That’s because singer / songwriters as a group tend to not have as much money as people involved in cryptocurrency trading, or any kind of trading for that matter.
Trading and investing requires some amount of disposable income, or capital, merely to participate.
Learning how to trade at a high level can also help you make much more money, so it’s no wonder that, on average, people are more willing to invest more money into education on this topic than something like songwriting.
Should you sacrifice passion for profits? Not necessarily.
But spending years of life trying to draw water from a dry well probably doesn’t appeal to you any more than making a lot of money doing something you don’t like.
My personal view on this topic is that you’ll get the best results working on things that you’re good at, for which there’s a strong market demand, and that you’re at least somewhat passionate about.
In the end, it’s your journey and your decision. I’m just here sharing what I’ve learned and observed during my tenure in this industry in the hopes that it will put some wind in your sails, regardless of where you’re planning to go.
Luck, timing, happenstance, fortune – whatever you want to call that which is wholly outside of your control – plays a HUGE role in your success.
You can work your butt off for years and have little to show for it. So it’s no wonder then that many of the most successful businessmen and women are well into their 30s and 40s before they’ve accomplished anything of note.
Some people hit their stride early, catch a break, and have the courage and intelligence to compound those wins into ever greater successes.
Since, like death, you can’t control luck, there’s no use dwelling on it. Instead, I propose we do everything in our power to minimize luck as a factor by approaching this whole membership site business intelligently.
But make no mistake about it…it is a factor…
This may seem obvious but you need a good product.
In fact, you need a GREAT product.
And in the case of a membership site, you need to give your members a great reason why they’re paying you not once, but over and over again.
Quick tip: in my experience, the number one best way to retain members for months, even years, is to have a lively, active community.
That’s why I’ve been a member of the Member Site Academy for so long. In fact, it’s the only memberships site that I’m still a member of, and I recommend it to all my readers and customers because it’s such an incredibly valuable resource for membership site owners (and aspiring membership site owners).
Product and community creation come easier to some people than others. But I’ve found that most folks are more inclined towards one than the other.
For example, I prefer creating products. But many of my customers prefer managing a community because they’re more extroverted.
So in this arena it’s good to play to your strengths. However, it’s likely that you’ll need to step outside of your comfort zone quite a bit to pull everything together.
Your marketing & sales skills
Even if you’ve got an amazing product, you won’t get very many members if you don’t have some basic marketing and sales chops.
This includes but is not limited to:
– Email marketing
– Content creation (articles, podcasts, courses, etc.)
– Facebook ads
In a nutshell, you need to be able to attract visitors to your site, and then convert them into paying members.
My experience is that creating and maintaing a membership site is nowhere near as difficult as getting momentum going on the marketing front!
The good news is that you can learn pretty much everything you need to know by searching the web, reading, listening to podcasts, and getting advice from people who are further down the road than you.
Again, the resource that I find myself recommending over and over for all of your membership site needs is Member Site Academy.
Are membership sites a form of passive income?
A membership site is a business like any other, and the degree to which the income it produces is passive depends largely on your ability to automate using software, and delegate to your team.
In the early stage of a membership site’s lifecycle it’s unlikely that you’ll achieve a passive income.
What’s more likely is that you’ll have to work hard to build your site into a formidable resource, make it truly valuable and “sticky”, and then work on ways to make it more hands-off.
One pitfall I’d like you to watch out for (and one that I’ve made myself) is to avoid making your product too dependent on you, personally. If the product and site is all about you, if the marketing is based on the strength of your personality, and if people are signing up to get access to YOU, then you’re going to have a hell of a time separating yourself from your business.
You might get into a situation where you’re wearing “golden shackles” and you spend all of your time administering your community and answering questions from your members, all of which are directed at you.
You may welcome that idea and wonder why I would warn against it. The truth is that even if you love what you do, and love interacting with your community, you’ll come to a point where you want to take time away from your business to recharge, take “me” time, and maybe grow some other projects.
You won’t be able to do that if you can’t even step away from the business for more than a day or two at a time without things falling apart.
Another good reason to focus on building a business brand instead of a purely personal brand is that it makes your membership site easier to sell in the future.
You can earn a generous multiple of your membership site’s monthly revenues if you build a high quality and more or less hands-free site. Buying and selling websites is big business. In fact, some of our MemberFix customers don’t even build their own membership sites, they buy them! Then they improve the content, improve the marketing, and make the sites more profitable than before, which allows them to re-sell the sites for an even greater sum.
You may think “why would anybody ever sell their membership site?”
There could be many reasons. Unexpected medical bills. Boredom. A better opportunity. Who knows?
It’s always good to start with the end in mind, and a membership website is no different. This frame of thinking will not only help you if and when the time comes to move on, it will also help you make better decisions while your business is active because the qualities that a potential buyer values in a business are the same qualities that make the business attractive to its customers.
So passive income is possible with a membership site but generally speaking, it will take some time and hard work (and smart work) to build it up to a point where you don’t do much and just collect paychecks.
How much does it cost to start a membership site?
You can start a membership site for very little money.
=> How to build a membership site on the cheap (Article Coming Soon)
And in fact, that’s the strategy I recommend. It doesn’t make much sense to pour hundreds or thousands of dollars into software and developers to build a product that nobody wants.
It’s worth highlighting this point because it’s probably the #1 mistake that most aspiring membership site owners make.
We naturally assume that people need what we have to offer. But that’s not always the case. For every one successful membership site that somebody started without doing any kind of validation testing, there are probably ten failed sites buried somewhere in the expansive graveyard of the interwebs.
The reason is simple.
To be successful, you have to sell people something they want to buy. You can’t always know what that thing is until you offer it to them and get their feedback.
Is there a leap of faith involved in launching a product, even when you’ve received positive feedback on the idea and prototype? Absolutely.
So do you really want to make that leap of faith over a ditch into a giant chasm by NOT doing any kind of validation?
The reason I bring this up is because the cost of building something that you wind up scrapping is not only your money but also your irretrievable time.
If you know for sure that your idea is gold, and you want to invest a bit more, here is my recommended “stack” of software:
How much time / effort does it take to set up a membership site?
It depends on how ambitious your project is.
If you follow my Membership Site Quick Start you can get your tech and website set up in a week or two and for only a few hundred bucks.
That’s actually the easy part…
The hard part is getting the members in, keeping them, and growing the site.
If you’ve already got a successful business or a large, engaged audience, and some capital to invest you can hit your stride much more quickly.
If you’re bootstrapping or only have a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to invest in your site, and not much of an audience, you’ll need to hustle harder to get off the launchpad.
Preparing your membership site idea
In this section you’ll learn what makes for a good membership site idea.
You may already have your idea ready.
But if you’re still trying to figure out what to start a membership site about, here’s a simple approach you can use to brainstorm…
1 – Think of a few problems that people in your audience or field of expertise have.
2 – Classify this list of problems by severity.
The more painful and annoying the problem, the more likely that somebody will pay you for a good solution.
Don’t be fooled by how often people bring up a particular frustration. Frequency is a poor indicator. Severity is much more reliable because that’s when people become willing to pull out their credit cards to make their frustrations go away.
3 – Order these problems according to how well they fit a recurring business model.
In other words, is your solution a “one and done” product or course? OR, can you continue to provide legitimate value month after month to keep people paying you on a recurring basis?
Remember, often times a community component is what people really pay for. Can you build a community in your niche that people would want to become and remain a part of?
4 – You can use this free Airtable template I’ve created for you:
Once you’ve opened the template you’ll want to download the .CSV file and either import it to your own Airtable account, or import it into Google Drive where you can open it using Google Sheets.
5 – Now select your level of passion for solving problems in each area.
6 – Now select your level of expertise in solving problems in each area.
On a side note, I recommend you use Airtable to organize the entirety of your membership site efforts.
=> How to organize your entire business with Airtable
=> How to organize your entire LIFE with Airtable
Researching the market
One of the ways you can know if your idea has potential is to see what your competitors are doing.
In general, the more competitors in your space, the better. That tells you that there’s a demand for the kind of solutions you’re offering, which is why there’s a lot of supply to meet that demand.
This isn’t a super complicated process. It basically just involves Googling around and searching for the kinds of things your prospective members would search for.
For example, my business is in WordPress membership sites.
So I might Google something like “how to set up a membership site”. I might even go so far as to do some keyword research to check the monthly search volume of this term and others like it.
I can tell you quite frankly that the membership site space is tiny. You’d think it’s huge but it isn’t. It’s also a very fragmented space because the only thing connecting different membership site owners is the fact that they have membership sites. But they’re all in different markets and niches.
I’ve been lucky to be able to build a good business in this market despite its relatively small size and the difficulties of marketing in this space.
But because of this experience, I’ve learned how to carefully research new projects and base my movements on data and numbers rather than wishful thinking and voodoo.
Of course, these are all general guidelines. There are always exceptions to the rule. While I don’t think it’s good to rely on “hope marketing”, I’m a big believer in using your intuition in business in conjunction with sound research and marketing principles.
Testing your idea
People aren’t always willing to pay you for something you built even if you think it’s amazing.
Is it possible to build a membership site based on your instinct and understanding of the market without running any formal tests or doing any validation?
But it’s still usually a good idea to find out if there’s a real market for your product before you spend significant time and energy building it.
This process is well known in Lean Startup methodology as the Minimum Viable Product, or MVP.
An MVP is the smallest version of your product or site that’s representative of how the full version will look and feel.
The idea is to present the MVP to your audience, ask them for money, and if they give it to you, quickly build the rest.
The “ask them for money” part is very important because what people say they’ll do and what they actually do are very different.
So once you have an MVP ready, you’ll want to sell it to your list or audience at some kind of discount, in exchange for honest feedback.
What does this process look like for a membership site?
It usually means creating a members area, a course or two, and maybe a community as well that you’ve seeded with some initial content. If you get a few sales of your MVP (friends and family don’t count), then you’ve got a somewhat reliable indicator that you have something of value to offer.
Is the validation model always accurate? Definitely not.
Like I said, I’ve seen people build products and memberships with no official validation whatsoever, myself included. If you’re confident in your understanding of your market and audience and you know their problems intimately, you may not need any validation per se.
Still, whenever possible, I think it’s a rather small inconvenience to have to validate your idea compared to the huge inconvenience of spending dozens of hours building something that nobody is willing to pay you for.
Name that movie:
“If you’ve made it this far, perhaps you’re willing to go a little further…” 🙂
Now that you have an idea of how membership site’s work, what you can expect to earn, how to figure out if you have a viable idea, you’re probably itching to actually begin creating your membership site.
Lucky for you, I have 2 excellent resources for that:
1 – The Member Site Academy – I’ve mentioned the MSA before and I’ll continue doing so because I believe it’s the single best investment you can make in your success as a membership site owner. This is just the best community for membership sites online period. Even I’m a member!
2 – Picking your tech “stack”
Go through my next mini-course (similar to this one, and also free), which will help you pick the absolute best tech, apps, plugins, forum, and theme for your site.
=> Start the next course now