Membership sites are extremely profitable. Members pay a monthly fee and in exchange they get your content and they get to be part of a community. They provide your members constant support and it provides you with recurring revenue. In this article I’ll show you how to create a successful membership site.
Step 1: Pick a Niche
Narrow it down. Find a group of people who are really passionate about something you know a lot about. It could be business-related (such as “Making Money with iPhone Apps”) or lifestyle-related (such as triathletes or guitar players).
Step 2: Become an Expert or Partner with One
There are a lot of experts that have very popular blogs and large followings but they don’t know how to monetize them. Use Google and Technorati to find popular blogs in a particular niche and approach some successful bloggers that have big lists but don’t seem to be making much money.
Or, you can be the expert yourself. Maybe you’ve already earned that status, or maybe you can earn it by blogging, speaking at conferences, building a list, and contributing to conversations on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. This is a great book on how to become an expert in any niche.
Step 3: Create a Landing Page
The worst thing that could happen would be to launch a community that is dead. You want to have at least 100 members on the day you launch. You do this but building anticipation.
First, create a landing page using Unbounce. On this landing page you’ll briefly talk about the community you’ll be launching and have an email capture form so people can opt-in to be notified when you launch it. Don’t talk about pricing yet and don’t mention a launch date. Use video to deliver this message; it’s a lot more effective than text.
Step 4: Do Webinars
Organize webinars and promote them like crazy. Find influencers in your industry and partner with them. Offer exclusive webinars for their audiences. Customize your presentation and make sure you knock the ball out of the park here. Your webinars should be 99% content and only 1% promotion (show people where they can sign up to be notified when your community launches). Make sure your content is outstanding. I can’t emphasize this enough. I’m talking about the kind of content you’d normally charge a lot of money for; the kind of content you’re almost hesitant about giving away for free.
Step 5: Start Blogging
If you don’t blog yet, start blogging and promote your blog posts to your email list. Make sure you use a social sharing plugin such as ShareThis so your readers can share your content with their friends by email, on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Wrap up your blog posts with questions so you get comments. Reply to the comments right away. Also, post your content to Facebook and Twitter and put the social media icons on your site so your readers know where to find you on Twitter and Facebook. Include YouTube in the mix if you’re creating video content as well.
Step 6: Start Building Momentum and Gather Feedback from Your Audience
Ask them what they want the community to be like and what they expect to get from it.
Remember that the worst thing that could happen is to launch a dead community, so these are some ways you can tell if you’re ready to launch:
Do people share your content?
Do people comment on your blog posts?
Do people email you asking for advice or asking when you’re going to launch?
If the answer is yes, you’re ready to launch.
Step 7: Build It
Building the actual membership site isn’t that difficult or expensive. I recommend WishList or Kajabi. If you have technical skills you can do this yourself, but otherwise just hire a developer to do this for you.
Step 8: Pre-Launch
At this point you want to set a launch date and announce the pricing. Create a new landing page with Unbounce for early bird registrations, but don’t allow people to buy yet. You want them all in at the same time when you launch. Just put another email capture form on this page. However, on this page you want to tell people more about what the community will be about and what they can expect from it. You can do a video tour and show some screenshots. Unbounce has great templates for this.
Let your subscribers know that you’ll only open the registrations for 24 hours. Remember: you want everyone in at the same time. After that, put people on a waiting list and accept new members every month or so. You do this because people want what they can’t have.
Step 9: Launch
Right before you open your doors you’ll want to promote your community again:
Email all the people who sign up to be notified
Email people who left comments on your blog
Promote it on Twitter and Facebook
Remember all those webinars that you did with influencers in your industry? They’ll be your affiliates, too. You’ll pay them a recurring commission (usually around 30%) on all the memberships they help you sell. Talk to all of them a few weeks before you launch to make sure they have everything they need to promote you five days prior to your launch, the day before and the day you launch. Make it easy for them. Write email templates they can use, design banners and provide them with whatever they ask you. You should also set up your affiliate program in a way that if someone signed up to your list through a webinar you did with an affiliate, they get credit for it when the new member signs up. A great way to get big-name affiliates on board is to offer exclusive bonuses or discounts to their audience.
One very important thing: when you launch your community, offer a free trial. Usually, 14 days is enough. A day before the trial expires email them and remind them that the trial is about to expire and if they don’t cancel they’ll be charged. Some people never do this and hope their members will just forget. Don’t do this. It’s the wrong way to start a business.
Step 10: Retain Your Members
You’ll never stop marketing your community to attract new members. That being said, focusing on retaining existing members will be your most important activity for two reasons:
It’s a lot cheaper and easier to retain a member than to get a new one.
When you blow your members’ minds with amazing content and you exceed all their expectations, they’ll tell all their friends about you and that’s the best kind of marketing you can get.
These are some ideas to retain your members:
Call new members (or have someone call them) as soon as they sign up. Make sure you answer their questions and they feel welcome.
Some members will always be bashing you or attacking other members. Get rid of these people.
Answer support tickets right away. I highly recommend Assistly.
Overdeliver. Overdeliver. Overdeliver.
Give people points for posting to the forums, logging in, answering questions and interacting. Allow people to exchange their points for presents, bonuses or discounts. When they cancel their membership, they lose their points.
Be consistent with your content. People like routines and knowing what to expect.
Create a “Welcome” page that your members will see the first time they log in. Welcome them with a video and show them what they need to do (like completing their profiles) and give them a site tour so they’re familiar with it from day one.
Use social sharing like crazy. An example: when someone is watching a guitar playing lesson, have Facebook and Twitter buttons on the page so people can post to Facebook something like “Learning ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ on my guitar on GuitarTraining.com”. People love sharing what they do and their accomplishments, and this is free marketing for you, so make it easy for them to do so.
Provide your content in multiple formats. If you do a video, offer the MP3 version, an iPad/iPhone video version, a PDF transcript and the PowerPoint slides you used in your presentation. Different people like different kinds of media. If you only have your content in one format, you’ll alienate a lot of potential members.
Announce upcoming content and events. When people have something to look forward to, they’re less likely to cancel.
A really clever idea: the first month give them the first part of a course. Then the second month give them the second part of that course and the first part of the next course. Keep doing this every month so your member always want to stay to get the second part of the course they already have the first part of.
Have disappearing bonuses. For example, have a tool or a special report that is available only in December. Do the same thing every month. By doing this you’ll ensure that most of your members stay with you every month so they can access all your content. Otherwise, what stops someone from signing up, downloading everything and then leaving?
Slightly rise your prices every few months but lock your existing members at the price they paid when they signed up. If they cancel and come back, they’ll have to pay the new price, so this will reduce the cancellation rate.
People will come for the content and stay for the community. Make sure it’s active and everyone gets their questions asked in a timely manner.
Step 11: Taking Your Community to the Next Level
If you’ve been following this system, your community should be pretty strong after a few months. It’s time to let the experts in the community do more of the work you’re doing. They great at it and they’re passionate about it. Give your top contributors free memberships to show your appreciation.
Step 12: Never Stop Promoting It
Continue working with affiliates, doing webinars and encouraging your members to share their accomplishments on Facebook.
Another great tactic I love is interviewing other experts in your industry. Not only does this add a lot of value to your site, but most experts will link to their interviews and this will give you a ton of great exposure.
Best of luck with your membership site and please use the comments section below to ask me any questions you might have!