Building a WordPress Membership Site is one of those ideas that can create long lasting niche success. You can become an expert in a specific area. You can serve members of the group in a more focused manner. You can generate income on a consistent basis from your members. However, it can be a tough process too. You must be active and available to members. You must generate enough content for membership to be worth it. You must price your membership correctly. Above all, there are positives and negatives to the model. This article will provide you with an in-depth understanding of building a WordPress Membership Site and how it can become an excellent niche website opportunity.
A foundational component of building a WordPress Membership Site is to have a deep knowledge and deep passion for a topic. This of course applies if you individually will be running the niche website. If not, you can certainly get away with managing while someone else provides the day to day. Regardless, you need to generate ideas. Kevin Daum, a well respected entrepreneur and author, highlighted some unique ways to develop your own ideas. These suggestions are more of the macro approach to idea generation, but are always applicable. In fact, these types of suggestions I have utilized with various projects. Specifically, Daum suggests we do the following during idea generation (some omitted):
- Observe: This is an excellent way to generate ideas. Get outside and observe people, situations, and life. Activity will provide you with an understanding of what people are doing and ultimately what is going on around you.
- Socializing: Getting to know individuals outside of your normal circles is a must. When I was developing my first membership site, the ideas for it actually came from meeting someone interested in a new high intensity sport. Ultimately, that site flourished!
- Surfing the Web: I cannot tell you how many times this has come in handy. You surf the web, see what is trending, and go from there. Ultimately, just surfing will provide you with a lot of material.
- Actually Sit Down and Structure Idea Generation: This one is a no brainer. You simply sit down and develop a mapping of ideas.
All of these examples will provide you with some ideas to generate ideas! But seriously, you need to focus on ideas that truly work in a Membership model. Certainly there are ideas that do not work in Membership models, ideas that might, and ideas that are perfect. For example, if you personally are an expert in one area, that might work well. However, if you are creating a membership news site that might be a bit more tough given competition in the space. Above all, generate ideas at this point and we can discuss opportunities next!
Now that you have generated a plethora of ideas, you need to focus on opportunities. These opportunities will provide you with an understanding of what might and might not work. Although I would not say I am the ultimately expert, I will say that these opportunities are proven methods. Keep in mind, this is a fairly new space and one that could shake up pretty quickly. You could be the person to generate a whole new opportunity never though of before. Nevertheless, it is important for you to understand the different opportunities so that you can take your idea that you’ve generated and translated into a model that works for you.
Expert Membership Model
The expert membership model is probably the toughest model as it relates to Building a WordPress Membership Site. The reason it is a tough model to implement is simply because it requires a level of expertise that can separate you from the crowd. In short, this model requires that the content generated for the members is superior on a very unique level compared to other websites across the internet.
The expert membership model typically includes an individual developing content for interested members that is of superior knowledge. Let’s play this one out to show you an example. Certain websites provide financial and investing advice to its members. The way these websites survive is that they are focusing on developing a product that is based upon a level of expertise unmatched both online and off-line. The members will receive tips, resources, and advice as it relates to financial planning and forecasting. Because of the expertise that these individuals are receiving they are able to maintain a strong membership base.
Obviously this type of model can expand all sorts of disciplines, topics, and industries but ultimately it relies on the expertise of the content generator. Therefore at a minimum you would need to develop an expertise in a specific area that allows you to provide that superior content and personal advice to your general membership.
Product Based Model
A product based model can really take multiple forms but ultimately relies upon a model in which you are focusing on certain products for your members when Building a WordPress Membership Site. In other words, your membership on some level is paying for expertise but it is paying for your knowledge regarding products that a member is interested. On a foundational level you will need to have an understanding of the product category or industry but it may not be necessary that you are the authority on a specific product.
Let’s use another example for illustration purposes. You are a stay at home mother who is raising her children. In the course of that significant, valuable, and hard work you find yourself wanting to educate mothers and parents on baby products for learning. You start a blog that focuses on discussing your own path as it relates to toys that support your children in learning. However, the website grows to where you are providing regular advice, comparisons, and even studies on children, products, and learning. You decide that to maintain a closely knit community you need individuals to become members. Further, you decide that membership should require $10 a year and then you continue to provide the same advice and reviews that you have historically.
You can see in the example above that although expertise is important, many mothers or parents are coming to that website for the purpose of understanding what products work, what products don’t, and ultimately what they should be using for the purpose of assisting their child in learning exercises. The biggest piece to remember is that this type of model requires an individual to have a significant level of interest and experience but most of all the ability to analyze products that customers\members will purchase.
Product Specific Model
You might be wondering to yourself what is the difference between this and a product website. The product website above is much more general because it is covering various products and is really focusing on a topic in which you sell product. However, a software or product specific membership website is not really focused on selling a product or software but rather is focused on assisting members about being able to utilize that software or product on an expert level. You might also be wondering how is this different from an expert membership website too. This is a type of membership website where yes you are using expertise but ultimately the goal is to help the general public be able to better utilize a product or service rather than providing that member with expertise that can be utilized regardless of product or service.
Once again, let’s use an example to understand the nuances here. A woman works for a financial services company and spends all of her day working in Microsoft Excel. She developed spreadsheets, pro forma’s, and ultimately very complex cell sheets for the purpose of providing high quality services at her job. One evening she finds herself needing to learn more about a specific excel topic and searches online. She finds out there really aren’t any resources and the resources that are out there are pretty bad at explaining what to do. An idea pops in her head instantly like lightning: she can focus specifically on providing tutorials on Microsoft Excel. She develops the website and finds out that although the website is being used across the world she really needs to find a financially viable model to continue to do that. She is not selling any products specifically on the website so referral revenue is limited; however she is selling tutorials about that product and decides to make it a membership website where she charges $50 per year.
Do you get the picture? In this case clearly she has a level of expertise but is really focusing on a specific product or software rather than knowledge unrelated to a product or software. For example, if you are a financial expert you are not focusing on Microsoft Excel but rather financial expertise. When you focus on a product or software you are truly focusing on how to help members become proficient in those products or software services rather than a specific industry knowledge base. This is probably one of the easier markets to enter due to the multitude of products and software services out there.
However, as we will discuss in the next section some markets are easier to enter than others and it is important that you understand what is easy, hard, and anything in between for the purpose of Building a WordPress Membership Site.
One piece that a lot of individuals forget about is competition as it relates to the space in which you are operating. In this case we are really talking about competition based upon your membership model. Let me tell you a little story with a picture of how and why understanding competition in this space is unique and important to your business plan.
Competition is always viewed as you against another website but in the membership space it is slightly different. When I started my first membership website three years ago I found myself using more of a specific product niche. My membership website was great because it covered the ins and outs of a specific software product much like my Microsoft Excel discussion earlier. Please keep in mind it was not Microsoft Excel and that stuff is actually pretty complicated. My model was based around a software product and I provided a community resource so that people could understand the ins and outs of the product.
The website was going very well but ultimately it was resulting in a significant amount of work on my behalf. Not that you should complain about that when you have a membership model but it is important to keep in mind that you need to be able to efficiently provide valuable content to a member throughout the lifespan of their membership. This means beginners need to have accurate beginner information, intermediate level needs to have information that goes beyond the introductory level, and your experts need expert level material. Herein lies the problem: the product that I was using was updating and changing at various paces which created a dilemma of keeping my information up-to-date.
Point number one: competition can be the category itself
The competition was the actual category, or actually in this case the product itself. The competition was that I kept on finding myself in a position that I needed to continuously update content for small changes even though the larger article could stay the same. For example, think of Microsoft Excel and how it updates annually. Although the functionality is largely the same, your historical content needs to be adjusted to account for the new look or feel. The bottom line is that when you are developing your membership website keep this in mind. I didn’t view this as an ultimate roadblock to my membership website but it certainly created competition that I wasn’t aware of from the beginning.
As I was continuing to build the membership website I found that other resources started popping up across the Internet. This included resources that were on some level taking content away from what I was offering. I am not saying someone was actually copying the content but it became evident that content contained within my membership website started to expand into other free websites such as Wikipedia, the developers own website, and other resources. This created the dilemma that membership websites need to contain information that is far better than free information outside of the website.
Point number two: competition is also information that is already out there
Clearly this is going to happen on some level for all membership websites and should not be viewed as a red-line stopping point for not doing a membership website. However, it is something to think about when you are evaluating your idea. For example, in the future you can see how some products might generate more information the more they are used. When Microsoft Excel was initially becoming popular there was less information but as it became more popular there was more information. You need to think about your website from a strategic standpoint and although you are not going to be able to limit all risk categories, you will start to see competition from a different angle.
One final point on competition for me related to the demise of my first membership website. My membership website only grew to a few hundred members but when you are thinking about each of them paying $50 a year and the referral fees I was generating for products, the website was still worth it to operate. Nevertheless, two years later I found myself in a situation where the product was being transformed into something else. In this case, the product that I was actually focusing on was merging with another product. I found myself in the position that could occur for products or even topics. The landscape of the knowledge that I was offering was significantly modified.
Point number three: competition can be market shifts as a whole
When I say market shifts I’m really talking about a fundamental change in either a product, industry, or category. This does not mean that your product shuts down or that something catastrophic happened with your topic but it means that your fundamental topic has had a significant shift. Once again, I probably could’ve recovered from this but I chose not to because at that point I was developing this website and had multiple other projects. Nevertheless it is important for you to remember that industry shifts occur, products change, and ultimately you need to be in a position to react to any of those if you want to succeed in the membership space.
The important key here is to remember that competition is more than just somebody else developing a competing product. In the membership website space, competition means much more than that. It means competition from the product itself, market shifts, and even your own ability to keep up with the product or industry. Enough about that, let’s get to building a WordPress membership site.
Actually Building a WordPress Membership Site
Now that we have discussed the various business models and issues you need to be thinking about when building your WordPress membership site, let’s start discussing actually building the website.
Domain name, hosting, and WordPress
I won’t spend a substantial amount of time on this as most of you know we have detailed tutorials on our website regarding the actual initial steps of building a WordPress website. You will need a relevant domain name, hosting, and an understanding of how to install WordPress. Please see the following resources to get you started on those:
- BustaName: My favorite tool for researching domain names. You can literally find so many combinations and it instantly checks if the domain is taken or not. You can even get great deals on prices because they are much lower than what is even offered at domain registration sites.
- BlueHost: My favorite hosting company. It has been a great experience. They are fast, everything is easy, and the customer service is excellent. If you are building a niche site, you will need hosting. Choose this and trust me you will never go back.
- WooThemes: This is an excellent place to look for themes. Some are paid and some are not so go at it. This website is built with a WooTheme.
- DIYThemes: Another great option for themes. A few of my sites utilize these themes and I am very pleased with their services.
Creating a structure
This is a very important step as most individuals building WordPress websites forget that structure is very important from a search engine optimization perspective and it is very important when it comes to actually having members needing to navigate your website.
The first step is you need to list what type of memberships you will offer. For example, will you could have different levels of membership, different names for each different type of membership, or one membership for anyone interested in becoming a member. If you have multiple members then it is highly likely that you will need to create a separate homepage for each member. For example, let’s assume you are creating a membership website around some sort of career advice. One membership might be for students, another for practicing professionals, and another for veterans of that career. Each will have a unique perspective and unique needs which is why at a minimum you will need to create homepages for each individual category.
If you don’t have multiple categories then it is simple and you just need to move to the next step. Nevertheless, each different type of member should have access to sub pages of their homepage. For example, insert www.hotjobs.com/students/how-to-develop-your-career. For any content that is common throughout the three you don’t have to worry about that but this type of structure allows individual members to know purely from the navigational standpoint what they have access to.
The membership website is based upon the business of selling content or some other form of content such as a forum to members. Therefore, this next step is something that you need to continuously be doing throughout all of the other steps. Create content, create excellent content, and created as much as possible. I won’t go into too much detail as the content each individual will be generating will be different.
Signing Up for Memberful
Memberful is awesome. I love it, my members love it, and you will love it. There are free WordPress plugins that can be utilized to create membership websites but this service is free except you only pay when a member signs up and pays for a membership. It is free to sign up and you really only pay additional fees if you upgrade your account. Below are the options and I suggest just using the starter account initially:
Step 1 is signing up above. It is very straightforward. Next, you will need to sign up for a Stripe account. Stripe is a payment processor and Memberful provides a substantive overview of why it is needed:
Memberful requires a Stripe account to process credit card payments. Memberful connects to your Stripe account with a click (visit Settings → Payment). If you don’t have a Stripe account, you can sign up and connect directly from Memberful. The Stripe sign up form is short and simple, and should take less than five minutes.
What is Stripe?
Stripe is a full-stack credit card payment processor. They’re a lot like PayPal, but with simpler pricing (no hidden fees), a cleaner interface, and more modern security features that don’t require us to handle sensitive customer credit card data. It’s free to sign up for Stripe, and they have simple transaction based pricing.
How does it work?
Stripe connects with your bank and handles the back end credit card processing for Memberful. They automatically deposit any payments you receive through Memberful directly to your bank account. They also provide you with the appropriate documents and exports for bookkeeping and tax reporting.
How do my customers pay me?
Once you’ve connected to your Stripe account, your customers pay you with any major credit card (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, JCB) from anywhere in the world.
Installing the WordPress Plugin
The Memberful WordPress plugin makes it easy to integrate Memberful with your WordPress site.
- From your Memberful dashboard navigate to Settings → Integrate and click the link to activate the WordPress service.
- Copy the WordPress registration key (ctrl/cmd + c).
- Install and activate the plugin on your WordPress site.
- Paste your registration key (ctrl/cmd + v) into the field and click the Register this site with Memberful button.
Once connected, your members will be signed into WordPress when they sign into Memberful. Their plans are also automatically synced.
Once the you’ve installed the plugin and connected to Memberful you’ll see a Memberful: Restrict Access meta box whenever you are editing a page or a post in WordPress.
To protect WordPress content select a subscription plan or download from the list, enter some marketing content in the editor next to it, and save the post. If a member is subscribed to that plan, or owns the download, and they are logged in, they will see the post. If they aren’t subscribed, or do not own the download, or they aren’t logged in, they’ll see the marketing content.
Keep in mind, you may also select multiple subscription plans and downloads. If a member owns any of the downloads or subscription plans you select, they will have access to the page or post.
Enjoy building a WordPress membership site and ensure you continue to build your following.