How to Build a Revenue-generating Membership Site

by Justin Topliff

In its most basic form, a membership site is a website that’s protected from the general public and only accessible to subscribed members. Membership sites generally require payment to either gain or retain access to content, but not always. In a later post, we’ll talk about how membership sites can be used to get more leads for your other products and services. Membership sites are a different kind of business model. Instead of one-off sales, you charge customers a monthly fee for access, much like a gym membership. When customers sign up, they are giving you permission to take their money for months or years into the future. The most common types of products we see on membership sites are online courses and access to exclusive ongoing content.

What are the benefits of a membership site?

The core benefit of a membership site is making money more efficiently. Instead of selling a service that you must be physically present to fulfill for every new customer, you can make a digital product once and sell it over and over again. Figuratively, instead of eating what you kill everyday, you could be eating leftovers. Quite simply, membership sites are an easier and faster way to make money.

You can also create products to sell on your membership site from work you’ve already done. If you’re a career coach, perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern that all of your clients typically require the same basic starting content. Currently, you may sell this as a service for $ 200. Why not turn this into a three-month membership course and sell it for $ 100 per month, netting you $ 100 more and saving you the time? All of the content for a membership course is in your head or lying around. All you have to do is convert it into a digital format for automated delivery. This means membership websites can be started with a low amount of capital.

Membership websites make it easiest to retain customers longer and increase their lifetime value. Let’s say you digitize all the content included in a $ 1,000 consulting package. Your customers love this package but it’s hard to sell because it’s expensive, and customers are often overwhelmed by the amount of material you cover in three months. Instead, you turn it into an online course and spread it out over six months. Instead of charging $ 1,000 up front, you charge $ 199 per month. Because $ 199 per month sounds more palatable than $ 1,000 up front, more customers wind up buying it. You also make more money over the course of six months ($ 1,194 as opposed to $ 1,000) and customers are happy because they are able to digest all of the value. In fact, they love it so much that they don’t mind paying $ 199 per month to continue on into a second follow-up course on a different topic. Did I mention that all of this happened automatically and you didn’t have to be present to deliver it?

Who can use a membership site? Is it right for me?

Any business owner can start a membership website; the industry you are in is irrelevant. You are in business because you have knowledge that people are willing to pay for. Now, all you have to do is put that knowledge into a digital format you can sell a membership to.

Recurring revenue is a game-changer when it comes to running a successful small business. It hedges against revenue volatility and is one of the biggest keys to financial freedom. Imagine having a dependable customer base paying you predictable income, instead of worrying whether you’re going to have a good sales month or not. Don’t forget that membership sites automatically distribute your content, freeing up your time so you can focus on growing your business. Some membership sites, like CustomerHub, even integrate with Infusionsoft.

I’m in! How do I start?

Step 1: Convert your knowledge or existing product into consumable content.

There are hundreds of different way to package your content: downloadable files, videos, audio, interviews, e-books, special reports, reviews, tutorials, online training or courses, worksheets, etc. Remember, you likely already have your content lying around; you just need to repackage it. Don’t be afraid to splice it and stretch it over a period of time. Remember, customers love digestible packets of information, not all of it at once.

Step 2: Plan out your monetization strategy and customer journey.

You don’t have to charge monthly for everything. Perhaps you offer a free five-day mini course to generate leads, then market your three-month paid course to them. What can you sell your customers after your three-month course? The goal is to get customers in and keep them in. Offering multiple products is a good way to get a deeper share of wallet from your customer. Make it easy for them to spend their first dollar (a lower priced a-la-carte item) and then find a way to increase their spending (a higher priced, multi-month course).

Step 3: Load everything into your membership site solution and automate marketing and upsells.

Building all of this may take a few days but once it’s built, that’s the last time you have to touch it. CustomerHub is a great solution because it’s owned by and integrated with Infusionsoft. CustomerHub even allows users to update their credit card information (it will automatically revoke access if a credit card expires) so you don’t have to chase them down. Infusionsoft can also power your upsell emails once users complete a course or product.

Step 4: Drive traffic to your site.

You’re ready to start selling. Paying for qualified traffic is a quality investment here. Don’t leave yourself at the mercy of SEO. The more qualified visitors you bring to your site, the more likely they are to convert into paying customers. Paid advertising costs more money but it’s scalable and controllable. Affiliate marketing is also a great way to gain qualified traffic. Seek out influencers in your space with large followings and give them a commission if they promote and sell your product.

Step 5: Sit back, relax, and enjoy the recurring revenue.

The recurring, predictable monthly revenue starts rolling in. Enjoy all the extra free time you gain from not having to hunt and kill your next sale. Use the money your membership site is generating to take your family on a vacation or pay down debt. It’s amazing how fast your monthly revenue can compound. The more users you sign up, the larger your monthly revenue gets; it’s the same principle as compounding interest. Fine-tune your marketing and upsells and you could be making tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

Remember, as with anything, perfection is not required. Often times, we are our own worst critics. I encourage you to take the first step and experiment with a free, five-day mini course based on one of your existing products. If nothing else, it will make a great lead magnet you can put on your website. But who knows, if you pair it with a paid upsell, you may get your first taste of predictable, recurring revenue.

Justin is a product marketing manager at Infusionsoft, where he leads customer research, marketing efforts and new product launches. He is also the founder of Previously, Justin was a senior venture associate at Tallwave, the nation’s first startup “commercializer,” and a creative resource designer and consultant for Jostens, Inc. A small business owner himself, Justin founded the Product Marketing Summit after identifying an educational gap for product marketers in the tech space. Launching later this year, the summit will disseminate free knowledge from over 40 of tech’s top product marketers.

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