How to Build a Successful Membership Site

A paid membership gateway can be a lucrative way to generate a new revenue stream and even the most niche subjects can be profitable on the web.
A paid membership gateway can be a lucrative way to generate a new revenue stream and even the most niche subjects can be profitable on the web.

Membership websites are now a common way for writers and experts to generate additional income through their website. For many existing website owners, a paid membership gateway can be a lucrative way to generate a new revenue stream for a wide audience. In our experience, even the most niche subjects like dream interpretation and astrology have a wider audience when exposed to the world wide web.

Historically, everyone thought that web content should be free. When the dot-com bubble burst at the turn of the century everyone realised that internet businesses needed to generate revenue from somewhere and so there was a wider acceptance that the traditional free model wasn’t a successful one. Since then, successful internet entrepreneurs have designed various payment models that give them a steady stream of income.

These days, many established websites offer a combination of free and paid content for visitors: Newspapers charge subscriptions for reading beyond a certain number of articles, or reading specialist editorial; Professional organisations pay for access to premium content, templates and advice; Membership websites charge for access to premium content, specialist advice and to connect with other members.

The key that unlocks a successful membership website is having access to skills, expertise or resources that other people would find valuable. That could be in the form of downloadable content like documents, podcasts or stories; it could be access to specialists on a forum or via a newsletter, or it could be one-off access to ask a specialist a question.

Chances are if you’re reading this then you’ve already got a good idea of what content you’d like to offer as a membership. While you’re reading the rest of your article see how these additional tips will help you make your site successful.

Start by being the expert in your field – You can’t fake expertise, which is earned through sweat and toil in your chosen area. Some say that mastery comes with more than 10,000 hours of experience.  You’ll know if you are an expert because generally, people will be asking for your advice on this topic all the time. You can’t fake expertise and knowledge and if you try you will be found out. Maybe you need more confidence and that’s where you can partner with others to match your skills and capabilities in areas you feel less confident.

Evaluate the need for your services – Have conversations with people who are your target audience. Find out what they think about your idea – and if they like it how much would they be prepared to pay for it.  Ask them what they’d expect for that fee and how long they think they would remain a member. Explore whether your selected method of delivery is right for them – for example, if you are expecting them to log in to a website, is that what they would want to do?  Or would they prefer a different method like a mobile app or a newsletter instead? Ask them what the deal-breakers would be, for example, what would make them leave such a site?

Find out how big your market is – You need to look around and find out how many other people there are in the market. How well established are they and how would your products and services compare. On the web, you are one of many players, but in order to compete, you need to have solid, valuable and recommended products.  It would be very difficult to compete with a company that had been in this space for a long time and offers a superior product to yours. Make sure your product and services are unique and really meet the needs of your customers.

Check that your content is unique – The content you provide, or the service you deliver, needs to be uniquely yours. People will be purchasing a membership from your website because what you deliver solves a problem they have. In most cases, this means that your content mustn’t be available for free anywhere else, either on another website, in an app or in print.

Plan for a long-term pay-off – Membership websites are an investment and they take time to pay a dividend. In my experience, while you’ll generate revenue almost immediately you may not be making enough money to cover your costs and pay your salary for some months. For one client, with an established audience, it took more than twelve months of consistent effort to start clearing enough money to make a living from their membership content. After year two, there was enough money in the reinvest in new site features.

A membership website can be a big earner when it comes to leveraging your specific skills and experience. Over time – managed consistently – it can grow into a great additional source of revenue for your business. The key to your success will be in having long-term, and realistic, plan for your success. For established businesses, you can expect to turn a profit in about twelve months, but before then you need to have enough grit and money in the bank to sustain yourself through this period.

If you need help planning a membership website to leverage your particular area of expertise, then talk to us. At Asporea we have been building successful, lucrative membership websites for people with passion in their chosen area of expertise. Contact us for an obligation free consultation today to find out how we can help you shortcut your success.

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