How to Build a Successful Membership Business – A Guide for Creators

Have you ever wondered how to build a membership business as a creator? Membership businesses are a great way to develop recurring revenue. And, no matter what kind of content you create, there's probably a membership business just waiting to be created. In this article, we'll share all the details you need to know about membership businesses, the best membership business models for creators, and get a step-by-step approach to creating your own membership business as a creator.


Creators: Here's How to Build a Successful Membership Business


What Is a Membership Business?

A membership business is a subscription site that offers content to members. These businesses offer things like educational content, access to a community, new content on a regular, ongoing basis, and more. For creators, membership businesses provide recurring revenue and opportunities for community building that will keep members coming back again and again. With a membership business, creators charge a recurring fee for access to exclusive services, original and curated content, and community.

Benefits of Starting a Membership Business as a Creator

Membership businesses offer several benefits for creators:

  • Predictable, scalable, and sustainable revenue
  • No need to have a large audience to create a profitable membership business
  • Members are genuinely interested in and engaged with your content
  • The ongoing relationship makes it easier to build trust and nurture relationships

Can You Make Money With a Membership Business?

So, can you actually make money with a membership business as a creator? The short answer is "yes," but it's a bit more nuanced than that. Whether or not you make money with your membership business depends on whether or not you offer something valuable to the right audience.

You can check your recurring revenue potential with our Subscription Revenue Calculator.

Monthly Recurring Revenue Calculator

Calculate your total revenue on a month by month basis.

Revenue breakdown

Month

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$199,000
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$199,000
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$199,000

Year

1
$199,000
2
$199,000
3
$199,000
5
$199,000
10
$199,000

Membership Business Models for Creators

Now that you know a bit more about membership business for creators, you're probably wondering what membership business models there are. A membership model is a business plan in which you offer a product or service on a recurring basis. There are several different types of products and services that fit within a membership business model that are perfect for creators.

All membership businesses share a commonality in that people sign up for recurring membership and that membership gives them access to exclusive content. Let's take a look at some of the most common membership business models for creators in 2021.

Online Courses

Online courses are one of the most popular membership business models. You have several options when it comes to setting up your online courses. You can offer up your entire course all at once, letting members access the full library of content, or drip the lessons out over time. Your online course membership can include a mix of free and paid content. Creating an online course is actually pretty easy. Go check out this guide to creating and marketing your online course to get started.

Content Library

A content library membership business can include existing evergreen content like videos, blogs, eBooks, white papers, and more. To add even more value to your membership, you can add new content on a recurring basis. With content libraries, you can provide all content to all members or even create different membership levels where certain subscribers can access certain pieces or types of content.

Coaching

Professional and personal coaching is another membership model that works well for creators. As a coach, you can offer your unique set of skills to a much larger audience than you can with one-on-one, in-person coaching. This makes it a whole lot easier to scale your membership business without increasing the number of hours you're working each day.

Community

Think tanks, masterminds, support groups. There are several different types of community membership businesses you can sell:

  • Facebook group
  • Meetups
  • Workshops
  • Forums

Software

Software is another membership business model that can be quite profitable for creators. In this model, members pay a recurring fee to use software that you've built. You might offer your entire product for a single monthly fee or create membership tiers with access to different features for different price points.

Multiple Products

There's no hard, fast rule that says you can only choose one of these membership business models. In fact, there are several creators who've built a successful and profitable business by combining membership business models we've shared here.


How to Build a Membership Business as a Creator

You probably have an idea of which membership businesses are calling to you as a creator. Now it's time to break down the steps you can take to build and grow your membership business even if you have a small audience. Here are the seven steps we recommend to build your membership business.


Step 1. Define Your Target Audience

Before you do anything else, you need to identify and define your target audience. These are the people who are looking to solve the problem that you can solve with your membership business. Given that there's nothing new under the sun, chances are good that whatever your idea is, it's been done by someone else. Maybe even a few times.

That doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it, it just means that you need to be intentional with who it is you're seeking to reach and help and how you can do it in a way that your competitors can't.


Step 2. Validate Your Membership Business Idea

After you've defined your target audience, you'll need to validate your idea. This means finding out whether or not there's demand for what it is you're offering. An easy way to do this is to look at other companies that are offering products similar to yours. Here are some competitor analysis tools that will make this process easy.

Additionally, you can check Google search or use SEO tools to see if your niche, products, and services have a decent search volume. The higher the search volume, the more people that are searching for what you have to offer. This means it's likely that you have a viable membership business idea.


Step 3. Price Your Membership Offering

Okay, so you've identified your target audience and have done the research to know that you have a viable offer. Next, you'll need to price your membership offering. There are literally countless ways to price a membership business, but most membership businesses use membership tiers where price point determines what members have access to.

Pricing any product is tricky. If you charge too much, nobody will want to buy. But if you charge too little, potential members might not think that what you're offering is valuable and they won't buy then, either. When you're in the pricing stage, there's no harm in testing. In fact, we encourage it. It's also important to know and understand what potential members look for when considering whether or not they want to buy from you.

  • Members pay for ROI. If your membership has a higher perceived return on investment, members are going to be willing to pay more for it.
  • Members pay for solutions. If you're offering high-quality content and information that is convenient and useful, people will be willing to pay to access it.

Step 4. Choose a Membership Business Platform

After you've set pricing for your membership business, you get to start building your site. And that means choosing the right membership business platform. Many successful membership businesses are run by creators just like you on the WordPress platform. There are tons of plugins that will do everything you need to run an awesome membership site. Here's a very small sampling of some of the best:

  • Memberpress (starting at $179/year)
  • WooCommerce Memberships (starting at $199/year)
  • Simple Membership (free)

The downside of WordPress and plugins is that you might find yourself lacking the technical skill to build the membership site of your dreams. If you'd rather have a ready-built system, those are out there, too. Website builder Wix has a members-only feature that's available on all of its plans (yes, even the free plan). Wild Apricot is another website builder, this one created specifically for membership sites. If you're selling courses, there are tons of online learning management systems (LMS) to choose from. Sites like Kajabi, Thinkific, and Teachable are just a few of your options.

If you're not concerned about incorporating your membership site into your own domain and site, there are sites like Patreon, Buy Me a Coffee, Podia, and others that you can use to build your membership site quickly and easily.


Step 5. Design Your Membership Business Site

Depending on the platform you choose to build your membership business site, you'll have different design choices available to you. Many of the options we've already mentioned have excellent design tools you can use to create an on-brand membership site that your subscribers will love. But even the easiest design tools won't matter if you don't know how to design an awesome site. Here are three key things you'll need to consider to ensure that your site is not only beautiful but functional.

Branding

The branding of your membership site should match the rest of your business. We strongly recommend hosting your membership site on your domain if at all possible and keeping the colors, fonts, and style uniform across the entire site.

Menus and Navigation

The main menu and navigation on your website should be clear and easy to understand. Your most important pages should be clearly visible on the main menu (generally along the top of the page). If links must be nested in navigation menus, don't make people go too deep to find them—nested menus shouldn't really be more than two deep. And, offer a site search option so people can just enter what they're looking for and go.

Sign-up Page

This page is important. It's what gets people to actually sign up for your membership business. That makes it a sales page. And that's all it should do: sell. Limit the page to a single call-to-action and don't put anything on the page that will distract visitors or draw them away from the page. You want them to hit this page with intent and have that intent grow the longer they're there.


Step 6. Create Your Membership Business Content

After you've built out your membership site you get to fill it with content! You'll want to be sure to include content that is useful and relevant to your members and lay it out in a way that's accessible and that makes sense to the way people will be using it. There are several different types of content that you can offer up to your members, from exclusive articles and white papers to resources like calculators and tools available just for them.

When planning content for your membership site consider the type of content you can (and want to) create, how you'll come up with new content offerings, and how often you're going to add new content for members.


Step 7. Promote Your Membership Business

Once you've filled your membership site with some valuable content, you're ready to promote your site and get paying members. There are two strategies you'll need to employ when it comes to building a membership business: getting new members and keeping existing members. The content you share and the value you offer is vital to keeping your existing members. To bring in new members, you'll turn to marketing and advertising tactics including:

Social Media Advertising

Advertising on the social media platforms that your potential members use is a great way to build awareness of your membership site. Many platforms have their own advertising platforms that allow you to target exactly the right people you're trying to bring in. Plus, they're cost-effective.

We also encourage you to use organic social media content (in addition to paid ads) to promote your work to your existing audience.

SEO

To bring in new members for your membership site, you'll probably want to create freely available content, too. This is the content that will be indexed by search engines and will bring in potential members searching for exactly the topics you cover. Once they land on your site, they'll be able to see that some of your content is locked behind a paywall. If the content you're giving away is high-quality and useful, potential members will assume that the content people pay you for is stellar (and it should be).

Email

Never underestimate the power of email marketing. It has a ridiculous ROI (between 3500%–4400%, depending on the studies you read) and is a great way to keep existing subscribers engaged while promoting your membership site to subscribers who haven't yet joined.


Wrapping Up

Building a successful membership business as a creator isn't about the size of your audience. Really! You can build a profitable membership site with a small, but engaged group of supporters. Of course, the more the merrier, right? Using the tips and tools we've shared here, you'll be able to build a powerful membership business and draw in just the right people to join you.

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