How to create a membership website

Have you built an audience through your podcast, blog, or YouTube channel? Creating a membership website is a great way to start earning an independent income.


Background

I've had three podcasts (MegaMaker, Build & Launch, and Product People) all focused on a very specific niche. They're for software developers, designers, and other makers who want to launch their own digital products (apps, software, courses).

Here are things I tried that didn't work: 

  • Advertising. Attracting good advertisers is really difficult. In podcasting, there's only a handful of companies that sponsor (Casper, MailChimp, Squarespace, Freshbooks), and their minimum requirements for downloads keeps increasing.
  • Crowdfunding. I ran my own campaign using a WordPress plugin called Ignition Deck. The idea was that listeners could support future topics by sponsoring their favorite idea. I wouldn't do this one again. Most of the support came from a single advertiser who would have supported regardless.
  • Micro-sponsorships. The idea here was to allow people to sponsor for as little as $994. You really have to be aggressive to get any ad money. But, there are listeners who want to promote their projects, and would be willing to spend $99 to $199. I might try this approach again.

Here's what I tried that did work: 

  • Membership site. It's not easy to run an online community, but so far the benefits have outweighed the challenges. Here's my membership site. The most challenging part was finding the right platform. That's what I'm going to talk about below!
  • Physical products. T-shirts, stickers, etc...
  • Digital products. Ebooks, online courses.

How much revenue can you earn from a membership website?

I initially launched Product People Club as a side-project. Since then, it's earned nearly $76,000. This is way more revenue than advertising or anything else I've tried:

Revenue from a paid membership website
The biggest benefit is I don't have to chase advertisers, or try to pump up my download numbers for my podcast.

I can make the show my fans wants, and give them an opportunity to dive even deeper to the subject matter in the private forums.

I highly recommend selling annual subscriptions instead of monthly. (I actually just switched to pay once for lifetime access)

Which community platform should you choose?

Last year I tried Mightybell and it was a disaster.I had high hopes for it, especially because it had chat + mobile app built-in. But it was plagued by bugs, and had a really bad UI. It may have improved since then, but our members really didn't like it.

For context, here are the platforms I've tried:

  • Campfire
  • BuddyPress (turns WordPress into social network)
  • bbPress (WordPress forums)
  • P2 (another WordPress update driven platform)
  • Mightybell
  • Now: Discourse + Memberful

How to set up an online membership site

Here is the setup I use for my community, the Product People Club.

  • Memberful is the main platform (billing, registration, renewals, etc...)
  • Memberful automatically connects to Discourse forums, which I host on Digital Ocean.
  • Memberful automatically adds members to my MailChimp mailing list. I use this to send members a welcome email with a free download + a weekly newsletter.
  • Memberful also allows you offer exclusive digital downloads for your members.

Memberful basically got my business back because of Discourse. They make it easy to accept payment + integrated with Discourse and MailChimp.

Once a new member signs up, they get this is the automated sequence:

How to launch a membership website

It's very difficult to create an online community if you haven't first built up an audience.

My recommendation: create a landing page (like this) and create a waiting list. 1,000 email addresses is a good benchmark for when to launch. Only open up 10 spots at a time, so you can personally onboard new members and get the discussion going.

Here's some further reading:

I hope this is helpful!

Published on June 17th, 2017
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