I’ve heard it said that membership sites are the “holy grail” of online business.

Imagine having a product where a bunch of people pay you every month. It’s a beautiful thing – right?

But here’s the thing – they can be challenging to build and maintain.

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On one hand, you can end up with an awesome community. One that’s getting so much value from your site that they long to send you money over and over and over.

On the other end, you can end up with a bunch of annoying members. You know – the pain in your you know what where you would rather poke out your eye than continue.

In this post, we will explore how to build a membership site in great detail. I’m going to share what I believe to be the best practices so that if you do decide to go all in, you do it right.

Why Build a Membership Site

238_Membership Site_Pinterest
How to Build a Membership Site: a Comprehensive Guide

I love membership sites for three simple reasons:

  • You can provide consistent value to your members. If you are building a business where the bulk of what you do is teach, being able to provide ongoing value is a plus. The truth is – building a blog is a process.If someone decides to go on this journey, they will need help. A membership site allows you to offer in-depth training and guidance.
  • You can build a strong community of like-minded individuals. There's something powerful about connecting with people with similar goals. This is especially true when there is a financial commitment.
Why Build a Membership Site?
Why Build a Membership Site?

Recurring income. With a membership site, members are paying every month (or whatever time interval you choose). There's security in having a recurring revenue model – your income becomes more predictable.

Sounds great, doesn't it? Well – yes. But it doesn't come without significant challenges.

The Challenges of Building a Membership Site

Building a good membership site isn't easy. In fact, it's FAR FROM easy. Think about it:

  • You have to provide consistent value. I know, I said that was a reason to consider starting a membership site. With that said, it can be quite a challenge to keep coming up with new content.
  • You have to master retention. The biggest issue for most membership site is one question – How do I keep members from canceling? I've heard it said that the average membership site keeps members for 3 to 4 months. That SUCKS. But retention is a tricky thing, and it can be difficult to get it right.
  • With paying members come customer service issues. Yes, in a perfect world, everyone loves everything you do and technology always works. Unfortunately, this world ain't anywhere close to perfect. Also, we live in a world where many people want everything to be perfect and immediate.

But don't worry. I'm not going to leave you there. By the end of this massive post, you will be a membership site NINJA. Yes, I said NINJA.

The Technology

Before I get into how to make your membership site successful, let's deal with the technology. Here are the tools that I recommend for building your membership site:

  • WordPress – This is the content management system I recommend for every purpose. It works for blogs, websites and yes – even membership sites.
  • Amember – This software handles registration, member accounts, protecting your members area and much more. It is the best I've found for managing membership sites, and I've explored MANY options.
  • Stripe – This service allows you to accept payments on your site. It integrates with Amember and is quite easy to setup.
The Technology

GetResponse – This is the email marketing service I use and recommend. It also integrates with Amember. When someone purchases a membership, the system adds them to an email list. You can then use GetResponse for your general communications.

  • SendGrid – This is a transactional email service that integrates with Amember. It deals with emails generated within Amember (i.e. invoices, password reset, etc.) and increases deliverability. The technology behind sending emails and getting them delivered is tricky. SendGrid reduces emails going to spam.
  • Facebook Group – I've tried forums for building community. Unfortunately, people don't like using forums in 2015. Social media has changed the game. Facebook groups are great because most of your members are already on Facebook. I HIGHLY recommend using Facebook groups for building community rather than forums (or something else).
  • Vimeo Pro – Up until recently, I used to recommend Wistia for hosting videos. Then my membership site started growing faster. Along with that, my bill also started growing faster than I would've liked. I now recommend Vimeo Pro for hosting your membership videos. You're able to customize the look of the video player and protect your videos.
  • Here are some miscellaneous plugins that I recommend for various purposes:

    • EventOn – If you have a schedule of events for your members, this is the plugin I recommend.
    • Frontend Checklist – This plugin allows you to create checklists for your members. The great thing about it is that it stores the items that members checked. This way, they can always see what's left for them to do.
    • Swiftype search – This allows you to create a customizable search engine for your site. When members type in a certain search query, it autosuggests related posts or pages.

    Before you Build your Membership Site

    Ask These Questions Before Building Your Membership Site

    There are a few important questions you have to ask BEFORE building your membership site:

    What value will you provide?

    Nobody (besides your mother) will sign up to pay you every month just to support you. There needs to be a compelling reason.

    What pain are you solving? What are the benefits for your potential customers? Being clear on this will help you create the right kind of membership site.

    How will you provide that value?

    Once you understand the value you will be providing, you need to look at the “how”. How will you be providing that value?

    Will it do monthly webinars?

    Will you do live coaching calls?

    Will you drip feed weekly video lessons?

    Will you have a Facebook group?

    These details are essential to grapple with before building your membership site.

    Some of the details will evolve over time, but it's a good idea to think through as much of it as possible beforehand.

    Who is your ideal customer?

    Conduct a survey

    Having the right customers is the difference between loving or hating what you do.

    You know the saying – “The customer is always right.” Well, that's wrong – especially if you have the wrong customer.

    Having a picture of who your ideal customer is, will help you create the right membership site to target that person.

    What struggles will your customers encounter?

    Put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer. Think through what they are trying to do.

    What struggles will they encounter in the process. Doing this will help you in the next step.

    How can you help them overcome those struggles?

    Once you understand the struggles, you can then create resources to help them.

    Conduct a survey

    One of the best ways to find out the answer to the questions listed above is to ask your potential customers.

    Conducting a survey is an excellent way of gathering this info. I spoke about how to do this in this post.

    The Member Resources

    Member Resources

    When I first launched my Coaching Club, I offered it as a series of webinars that were coming in the future.

    It was important for me to start with a core set of resources that were available immediately.

    The last thing you want is for someone to sign up for membership and then have nothing to do.

    Getting members to take action will play a big part in the success of your membership site. It's important to have resources available immediately.

    These resources generally fit in one of two categories:

    • The core training – If your membership site teaches how to start a blog, have at least one module covering the basics. That way, they can get started as soon as they sign up.
    • The core resources – Training videos are great and helpful. But there are also resources that can help your members beyond training. Create some of those resources and have them available in the members area.

    The Onboarding Process

    The Onboarding Process

    One of the most important factors that affect member satisfaction is the onboarding process.

    This is the orientation that happens immediately after sign up. If your new members are confused, they will be unsatisfied. Unsatisfied members cancel their membership.

    This process is critical for member retention. Here's what you need to do:

    • Get new members to take action immediately. Give them simple tasks to do. Here are some examples from my onboarding process:
      • Have them join your Facebook group and introduce themselves.
      • Have them whitelist your email address to ensure that they receive your emails.
      • Have them sign up for SMS notification (I use Call Loop for this).
      • Have them explore the membership area
    • Front-load value in the first month
      • Providing a little something extra during the first month. That will go a long way in keeping members engaged.
      • This extra value should help to simplify the process for your members.
      • Example: I include a four-week jump start in my coaching club.

    Communication – the Essential Ingredient

    Communicating with Members

    When it comes to building a successful membership site, communication is important.

    It helps you to nurture relationships with your members as well as keeps them informed.

    Email is a powerful tool for doing this. Here's what I recommend:

    • Send weekly updates. In these updates, keep members informed about what's happening in the membership site. Also, let them know what's coming up. Lastly, it's a great idea to highlight and congratulate member successes.
    • Send event reminders. Whenever you have events coming up, it's a good idea to send out reminders. My coaching calls are usually on Thursdays. While my weekly updates go out on Mondays, I still send out a reminder on Wednesday.

    Engaging your Members

    The best membership sites have members who are engaged. The question is – how do you engage your members?

    The answer is simple:

    [bctt tweet=”To engage others, you must be both engaging and engaged”]

    Engage with members regularly

    Here are some simple tips that can help you do just that:

    • Check in regularly. Yes, it would be great to have an active membership community where you didn't have to do anything. But the world doesn't work like that (and neither do membership sites). It's not a “set it and forget it” situation. Be engaged, and check in regularly.
    • Ask questions. How do you get members to interact and contribute to the ongoing discussion? Simple: Ask questions. You will find that these can be great springboards for awesome conversations.
    • Get members involved in a process. This is my top tip for engagement. Think of ways to get your members actively involved in a process together. This will make them feel as if they are a part of something bigger than themselves. That helps to keep them going.

    Conduct Surveys

    Conducting surveys is a great way to get feedback from your members. This feedback can help you make the right improvements. I do this at two points:

    • A few days after they enter. The goal of this survey is to get an understanding of what they are struggling with. I've built this into my autoresponder sequence to collect this info over time.
    • After one month. Once they have had time to go through the material, I ask for feedback on the program.

    Let's bring this home

    That's it. I hope that you see the power of membership sites. And I hope that you now have a solid action plan for building your membership site.

    But I'm sure there are some tips I've missed.

    Have you ever built a membership site? If so, what tips would you add to this list?

    If not, is this something you plan on doing in the future?

    Let's discuss in the comments below.

    Resources mentioned


    238_Membership Site_Infographic
    How to Build a Membership Site [Infographic]

    About the Author Leslie Samuel

    Leslie Samuel a business coach for high-performing entrepreneurs. As the host of the Leslie Samuel Show, he teaches how to build an online business. "Changing the world one post at a time” is the mission he strives towards. As a former university professor, he has a passion for education. He's the founder of Interactive Biology, a blog and YouTube channel dedicated to making biology fun for students and teachers. As the head of training for the Social Media Marketing Society, he helps social media marketers get the training they need to stay on the leading edge of social media.

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