I believe there are natural and logical reasons to have a membership site (also called a subscription site or continuity site) based upon the needs and desires of your audience and the niche you are in. Subscription (membership) payments are not the best model to choose simply because you would like an on-going (recurring) stream of revenue.
Private recurring payment sites have been around for quite awhile. Most are set up with membership site software or plugins that perform the magic of keeping non-members out while still allowing paid members access to all the content, downloads, and other resources offered by the site owner. Some premium software packages include lots of additional capabilities like a community forum, image gallery, built-in emailing, affiliate program, member profiles and other bells and whistles.
Costs for a membership site will vary significantly depending upon the complexity of the site, whether the software is self-hosted or hosted remotely on the vendor’s servers, and other considerations. You could pay a one-time fee of $25 for a WordPress plugin to build your site or $997/month for a hosted enterprise solution. There are even some “free” alternatives, which I wouldn’t recommend because they typically place ads and limitations on your content pages.
Good subscription software is set up to handle recurring payments, new member set-up and welcome, lost password recovery, dripped content (which is scheduled content which appears on a pre-set time schedule), emailing to members, ways for members to interact, downloads of digital products, product payment transactions, automatic monthly billing, and other features all without a lot of site owner intervention.
Be aware that membership sites can be set up for a specific number of weeks or months or they can be set for unlimited recurring periods (typically months) into the future until the member requests to leave and have his payments stopped.
Membership sites are often touted as the best business model on the planet! Why? Promoters say they are easy money. The pitch goes like this: “You sell a membership once and stand to gain monthly additional payments (in theory) forever.” What could be easier? But people who promote the membership model in this way often don’t mention one huge downside. Most membership site owners will tell you that the average member only stays with the site for 3 or 4 months and then they quit. To be honest, I have never seen any valid or certified stats to confirm the average online membership length (if there is such a thing), but what I have shared is what I have heard from a number of successful membership site owners that I know personally.
Some members will attempt to join a site, download everything, then either request a refund or quit the site after the first month’s payment. To combat this “hit and run” robbery, many membership site owners will “drip” content over time so that a member only gets specific pre-determined content each month … not have access to everything all at once.
What does this turnover mean for the site owner? Of course it means that the owner must be constantly replenishing paid members if he wants to maintain his/her monthly income from the recurring payments. He must constantly promote his site for new subscribers.
In order to combat this attrition or turnover, some site owners offer year long (or greater) membership terms at a good discount in order to persuade new members upfront that they should join at the lowest price available and stay for the duration of the period.
I believe that the best way to keep members for longer periods is to make the site experience a very user-friendly one, make the price unusually reasonable (so the cost-benefit ratio is outstanding), and the benefits (content, interaction, site features, etc) are unique and highly valuable in the eyes of the members. Think about it … if the content and experience at the private site is relevant to the desires of the member, and if all the benefits are unique, highly prized, and not to be found elsewhere … why would the members want to leave?
Long standing members will be those who are highly targeted to the niche of the site. Rabid and fanatical members who love the subject of the membership site will be the core element of the membership. It’s why some niches don’t really lend themselves to this business model – the people in the niche are luke-warm about it or they are only casual participants. You want avid, “converted,” and life-long nichers that are in this marketplace everyday.
Membership sites are a logical outgrowth of:
1- A niche where there is ongoing and important news, events, happenings, changes and the need to contact members with ongoing updates. Examples of this type of niche would include a stock market advisory service or a daily discount site where new offers come out continually.
2- A niche where there are a ton of downloads that will be of interest to the members like a cooking site where new recipes are given or a sewing site where there are lots of patterns to download.
3- A niche where the members would like continual on-going training or help in learning a new skill or mastering a process. Examples might be a site that gives ongoing tutorials of Photoshop tips, or a site offering guitar lessons, or a site on how to maintain your car throughout the year or an on-going series of different yoga exercises.
4- A niche where a particular skill or hobby is a passion for the members – it is an important part of their daily lives and they want to stay abreast of everything about the niche. Examples might be serious runners, professional photographers, genealogists or scrapbookers.
5- A niche where professionals or serious participants might gather as part of an organized group, like an association of local business owners, a local charity, a club, a group of drama enthusiasts, or a volunteer organization.
6- A niche where the impetus is on community and the social side of membership. Such groups like senior citizens, Harley Davidson motorcycle owners, cruise ship travelers, trailer and RV owners, etc, often come together at membership sites to gain new friends, talk about their common passion, exchange information, and share their own experiences in the niche with other like-minded people.
There are probably other reasons to have a membership site as well. What I’m saying is that certain niches and types of audiences lend themselves to subscription sites better than others. This is where the business model (membership platform) really shines.
I don’t think just extending the offer of one product after another to your audience is the way to run a subscription business. It’s not a reason, in my opinion, why your members will keep coming back to the site. Ditto for worthless general and “found anywhere online” information like rehashed PLR content. Consumers don’t like to be continually sold, day after day, and they will see through your “membership” idea if all you do is hammer them with junk paid offers under the guise of a niche community.
TIP: It’s time to think about offering a membership site when your customers and prospects begin asking for “premium” content or they want access to a higher level of what you have already given them. When the niche information on your blog or at your web site is not enough to satisfy some customers, or maybe they want direct access to you and your brain, then the natural extension of a blog or information business is a paid site with premium content that those willing to pay will enjoy.
I think it is a gamble to go to the effort of setting up a membership site if you first don’t know whether there is a real interest in what you’re going to offer to the niche participants. Listen to your audience, ask them if they would like to see a members only area and if they would be willing to pay for it. I hope this all makes sense.
To your online business success!