When Is The Right Time To Start A Membership Site?

When is the right time in your online business journey to start a membership site? Here’s what you need to consider as you make this decision.

When it comes to online business models, the membership site with recurring monthly billing is sort of the “holy grail”. And a lot of people dream of building a membership site for themselves.

But, we need to ask ourselves the honest question…

When’s the right time to start a membership site?

Does it make sense to launch right into building a membership site right out of the gate?

Is it right FOR YOU in the early stage of your online business?

The answer is… it depends. And the right time for you to start a membership site really does depend on your intentions and the pricing model you have in mind.

Let me tell you what I mean…

When It Is Too Early To Start Membership Site

One thing that seems to happen fairly often is that people set out to build a membership site even before they know much about what their market wants.

In some cases, they don’t even know who their market is yet! They are not firm on their niche, but they tell you they want to start a membership site.

“I don’t really know what my niche is yet, but I know I want to start a membership site.”

Don’t be that guy.

A membership site is a delivery platform. But, for that to mean something, you have to know the value that you’re delivering. You need to know what to deliver.

For many markets, the best thing to do is going to be a done-for-you service. Or build and test some smaller products to see what works and what your audience responds to.

This is simply a matter of finding product/market fit. It is right there at the top of our business model and it is the core of everything that comes under it. Put in other terms, it is where the offer that you have intersects with the needs and desires of your target market.

A membership site is a way to deliver at scale what your market needs and wants. However, if you’re not yet really sure what they need and want, you simply don’t have much business doing the legwork of building a full membership site.

Building a membership site (especially the kind that does recurring billing) is something best done after you’ve already proven the needs and wants of your target market by way of actual sales. You will have either done it for clients and now know how to deliver that at scale… or you’ve sold enough one-time products that you are now confident about scaling into a membership.

If a membership site is the right delivery platform for the product that fits them, then that’s when you build one.

Starting Out With Recurring Billing. A Good or Bad Idea?

The draw to the idea of having a membership site is usually all about that recurring billing. That’s what everybody wants. Steady renewals… every month.

But, extending my point from above, I’ve seen far too many people who come into this as newbies saying they want to start a monthly membership site, but they don’t even really know the nature of the offer that fits their market.

If you’re going to have recurring billing, you need to be delivering something that justifies it.

  • Will you be delivering ongoing value?
  • New releases into the membership on a continual basis?
  • And do you have a real schedule for yourself to make sure you are 100% certain you will create those deliverables on time and get them into the hands of your members?

If so… then you may be able to start out with a recurring revenue model.

I would encourage you, however, to test things out first. I didn’t start out with recurring revenue. In fact, I had created and sold many of my courses individually before I ever compiled them into a single membership.

So, unless you are rock solid on your concept, know people will want it, and know that you’ll be able to keep up with it without a hiccup, I encourage you to start off with other price models such as:

  • A charter membership with a lifetime rate
  • Lifetime membership with a payment plan.
  • Just sell individual products but use the membership as a delivery medium

Keep in mind that recurring, monthly billing can be harder to sell. It is just a psychological thing. People don’t like getting into ongoing, monthly payments if they can avoid it. They’ll do it, but only if the value is crystal clear and it is worth it for them. Otherwise, a better way to prove your product/market fit is to use upfront billing and simply earn that customer rather than trying to go immediately for a monthly subscription.

The Right Time To Build Your Membership Site Is…

So, 2 things have been established…

  • Everything depends on product/market fit. If you don’t really know who you market is and what they want, you have no business pursuing a membership site yet. Figure out what they want first.
  • Most of the time, jumping head first into recurring revenue and trying to sell a monthly subscription is a bad idea.

Now that we’ve gotten what NOT to do out of the way, let’s move into when IS the right time to begin that membership site.

Because here’s the truth…

“The membership site, as a platform, is ideal for most blog-based businesses.”

A membership site platform is very flexible. You can offer free memberships as a way to build your community and your email list. You can, of course, offer paid products using any number of pricing options. Basically, unless you are selling physical items, I think a membership site platform is perfect for most blog-based businesses.

Note, however, that I’m referring to the platform, NOT the pricing model. A membership site, again, is simply a site where a person has to log in to access something.

From this standpoint, setting up your membership site is best done pretty early in the process as soon as you’ve got a pretty good idea what your product/market fit is.

While I am very blunt in saying a blog is not a business (and it never will be), setting up a membership site behind your blog is the one way you can actually turn your blog into a business platform.

Let’s look at the possibilities:

  • Sell courses (big or small). Sell them individually, but all customers get one member account to access anything they have purchased. It is just simple.
  • Offer free courses or challenges as lead magnets inside your membership. Often a “free membership” has a much higher perceived value in the marketplace than a PDF download.
  • Sell services, coaching, etc. Yes, you can still use your membership platform to control billing for anything you sell them.
  • Have free members in your site, but position upsells to them when appropriate. After all, if they’re in your environment, you are able to get a lot more information about them than just an email address.

A blog, when set up correctly, is a strategically engineered content marketing environment. However, your membership site can take it to a whole new level because it is a personalized experience.

Membership Site Planning Worksheet

Starting From Scratch? Here’s How I Would Proceed With Your Membership Site

When you’re first starting out and you don’t have that product/market fit figured out yet, I know this feels like you’re climbing Mount Everest. Getting to that point of regular, recurring revenue just feels like an impossible mountain summit.

But, we just need to break it down to simpler components. Here’s how I would proceed if I were in your shoes…

First, I would learn as much as I can about the market I have in mind. The goal here is to learn from them what they most need and want. What their ideal solution looks like. The problem they want to solve and what it looks like to them. This process would involve passive learning (observing forums, social groups, blogs, etc.) as well as active learning (talking with them and doing customer avatar interviews).

For more: The Ultimate Guide To Choosing A Profitable Blog Niche That Works For You

Once I feel like I can see it from their perspective, I would sit down and outline an offer that I think would resonate with them. The key here is that I’m outlining an offer to match them… not creating an offer based purely on my own assumptions or what I feel like doing.

Does putting something up for sale on your website scare the crap out of you? The course, Offers That Convert, will walk you step by step on creating and testing your offer. Check it out.

Similarly, I would come up with a lead magnet (or series of them) for this market. It could be a simple PDF download, a video, or (yes) perhaps something you will do inside your membership site.

For more: Ultimate Guide To Building An Email List: List Building That Works And Makes You Money

Next, I TEST what I have come up with. Note that I create no products. Only offers. I want to see what gets them to convert. It is much easier to make adjustments to the offer than it is to make adjustments to a product already made.

At this point, I would probably go ahead and set up my membership site. But, note that I am not setting up some big training portal or anything fancy. All I’m doing is putting the basic infrastructure in place. This is a small investment in later. You can run the offer you test through your membership platform to collect payment. You can even put your lead magnets inside. The point is… you’re getting them into your membership site right from the get-go.

This thing will develop out over time. Small tests. Adjustments… then re-tests. I’d be using some paid traffic to speed things up to test these ideas and begin to get a little momentum.

But, the whole time… all roads would point to the membership site.

Because… one way or the other… whether free or paid… whether one-time payment or the future of recurring billing… it can all be done within the same platform.

Final Words

The right time to start a membership site is pretty early on. BUT…

Only if you realize that a membership site and recurring billing are NOT the same thing. They are NOT synonyms. 

A membership site is a business platform. It is a community platform. It is a framework for you to build your knowledge-based business, manage customers, and build a strategic environment for your community.

Recurring revenue is awesome, but it is just a pricing model. And one that it is very easy to jump into way too early and just screw it up.

Lastly, all options begin with your market. Knowing who they are. Being able to get into their heads and look at the world, understand what’s bothering them, and what they need and want. EVERYTHING begins there. 

I’m a massive fan of membership sites.

My entire business runs as a membership site.

For most of my students, I think it is a great way to go. As long as you see it in perspective of how it fits into things.

So, What Now?

If you want some free help planning out your membership via my worksheet, you can grab your free copy of the Membership Site Planner. It is right inside the document vault.

Ready to hope right into some DIY training to get it done? The Membership Site Blueprint is available right inside the course library.

If you’d rather just get to the point and hop onto a private call with me to discuss your membership site strategy and the right tools to build it, let’s hop onto a strategy call together.

And… if you want me to just build it for you, I can do that, too. In fact, building WordPress-based membership sites is what I do pretty much every day. Check out how tech services work around here.

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