8 Things You Need To Know Before Starting A Membership Website
Some of the key principles and cornerstones of running a fruitful and brilliant membership are true regardless of whether you’re just starting your membership journey or looking back on your humble beginnings with fondness.
If you’re starting out, these tips could save you a lot of time, stress, and confusion.
And if you're an established “membershipper”, these tips could be a perfect prompt for you to reinvigorate your membership or solve an issue you’ve been struggling with lately.
Let’s look at the eight essential things you should know before starting a membership…
It’s going to take longer than you think
You’re going to spend a good amount of time building your membership, working on the backend technical elements, creating your membership content.
Chances are, it’ll end up taking longer than you expect.
People tend to be in a rush and urgently try to get a finished product out the door – it’s understandable!
Starting a new venture is exciting and easy to oversimplify. Optimism is great, but it needs to come with some realism too!
As you build the backend of your membership, you’ll have new ideas and your plans will change.
Things you think will be easy will end up being sticking points, essentials becoming nice-to-haves, and life just gets in the way.
My advice? Build breathing room into your launch plan. It’s far better to spend more time than you want to on it than to rush and mess things up.
You will need to compromise
This is especially true for the backend work I just mentioned – most likely on your website.
There may be features or functionalities that you want for your website that are simply not available off the shelf, whether that’s through WordPress membership plugins or through hosted platforms.
People waste months jumping from platform to plugin and back again, trying to find the perfect solution and looking for something that meets every desire they have – aka something that just isn’t available in off-the-shelf products.
The time spent tearing your membership down and building it up again in search of the perfect (non-existent) platform or plugin wastes so much time.
You’re just never going to get exactly what you want right at the start.
If you can’t find a solution for everything you want, the answer isn’t to throw stacks of money at it (not at the start, at least).
The answer is to start compromising.
The chances are, you’re overcomplicating the process.
You don’t need everything to be perfect to launch, but you do need something to launch.
You will have tech headaches
This is inevitable, membership sites have lots of moving parts.
I’m not saying you’ll be putting out fires every day, but there will be unforeseen issues that pop up from time to time.
This is true for every single online business – you’re not being unfairly affected.
Every single person with an online business knows that tech goes wrong.
If it can happen to us, it can happen to you! The night before we launched Membership Academy, we lost almost 6 hours of videos due to corrupted files… We had to re-record them all!
Honestly, if you’re not technically inclined, this is one area where it is very much worth investing in professional support.
We’ve written about this previously if you want more guidance on finding reliable tech support for your membership site.
And, of course, Membership Academy contains specialist walk-throughs for common tech issues with all the major platforms and plugins.
You need to show up
The majority of online memberships are created by people who are experts in their particular market or niche.
Their business is centred around their personal brand and they as a person are integral to the membership’s success.
So, when people join your membership, they have some degree of expectation that they’ll get access to you.
This doesn’t mean you hand out your personal phone number and are at their beck and call, but it means you need to be present in your community.
You need to be present in member meetings, your forums and groups, answering Q&As directly. You should be there – not an assistant or guest or a pre-recorded video.
This is as much about delivering on what you promised as anything else.
You don’t always have to be visible to your members, but you 100% have to be delivering the service that they’re expecting.
Memberships are a long-term business model
A short-term mindset will run out quickly with a membership site.
Memberships are not get rich quick schemes, they’re based on recurring revenue that grows and accumulates steadily over time.
With alternative models, such as running online courses, you get huge revenue spikes… Once or twice a year. 6-figure launches sound great, but $0 quarters aren’t.
Those models are just not as consistent or sustainable – they operate on feast or famine.
A recurring revenue model – a membership – is so much more sustainable, it is a stronger base, and works for people with a long-term mindset.
You need to be in this for the long-haul, recognize the long-term nature of running a membership site, and not get distracted.
Know that your membership will change
Much like needing to accept compromise and imperfection, you must also accept that in 6/12 months’ time, you’ll be making some changes.
The more complex you’ve made your site, the harder it’ll be to affect, manage, and communicate these changes.
Truthfully, memberships are always changing.
What you launch with isn’t the finished article – nor is what you upgrade to!
This is the beauty of memberships, though.
You get constant feedback from members and from your own experience as the site owner.
You’ll find that the things you thought would be most important end up flopping and the unimportant extras will prove to be your highest-value features.
Memberships are constantly evolving.
You need to embrace that evolution.
Take some of that pressure off yourself – people don’t expect memberships to be the finished article and perfect the minute they join.
Memberships are not a static product and your members will understand that.
Change is inevitable, but you remain in control of your reaction.
You will have cancellations and refund requests
Cancellations and refund requests are the last thing you want… but they are part and parcel of the membership model.
All good things come to an end, no matter how great and lovely a member’s experience has been, this is simply part of the member life cycle.
Firstly, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong.
It’s par for the course.
Secondly, canceled members often come back!
25-30% of Membership Academy members who leave rejoin us within 12 months.
Cancellations don’t have to mean the end but, if they do, try not to take it too personally – it’s just part of the business.
This is an important point to remember and accept.
Early on in your journey, this can be really disheartening. Just know that you’re not alone in it, it’s part of the process, and it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.
You will plateau
In the first months and even years, you’ll see solid month-on-month and year-on-year growth. That’s so great. It’s also not going to last!
That progress will begin to level out.
There are loads of reasons for this.
Often, it’s because the things that got you there won’t necessarily keep you there.
Some of your tried and tested marketing tactics might be becoming less effective or delivering diminishing returns.
Trends change and audiences become jaded to certain strategies.
- keep your finger on the pulse within your audience and market, but also within the world of online business more generally
- keep testing and refining your marketing
- not take anything for granted – and definitely try to avoid getting lazy or complacent.
Starting a membership is exciting, scary, and ultimately rewarding
Hopefully these 8 truths will save you some of the horror and prepare you for more of the excitement!
And if you’re already running your membership, I hope you’ve felt a few flashes of inspiration or felt like you’ve had a timely reminder of some of the realities and facts of our amazing career path!
Wherever you are in your journey, remember that we are always here to help – whether that’s on this blog or our podcast, or inside Membership Academy.