Many web entrepreneurs and freelancers would argue that the membership site is the ultimate business model. As someone who has utilized this concept for coming close to two decades, I would agree.
I built the first membership site plugin for WordPress, and I’ve seen the biggest growth in popularity in the past couple of years with many new plugins now available for building and deploying premium content membership sites. I have learned a lot from building and operating my own membership sites as well as helping clients implement their own membership sites.
Like any other business model, in order to grow you must constantly learn and evaluate what is working well and what is not. You must make adjustments accordingly. Here are some things that I have learned about selling premium content via the membership site business model.
Don’t Lead With Membership
If you are just starting out, you need to be aware that you generally cannot lead with membership as the sole offer. People don’t buy without trust. Authority in a niche builds trust.
Does that mean that you need to be blogging in a niche for ten years before launching your site? Of course not. But you need to have spent some time building a “Minimum Viable Audience” before launching into a membership business model as your primary offering.
Build your list while you are building that trust. Then you can go with membership.
Content is Still King
Just as you can’t lead with membership, you also can’t lead with community. Content is still the number one focus. I’ve seen some sites fail miserably because they focused on community and not content.
Copyblogger Media founder Brian Clark mentioned in a recent podcast, “It’s hard to lead with community only – you need to lead with content.”
Content is still king here. It is what drives people to your door and it is what will lead them to convert, either to your list or your premium content. Then, once you have a “Minimum Viable Audience” you can begin to see community take shape.
Communities have to happen naturally. You can’t force it. So lead with what you do have control over and that is quality authoritative content.
Giving It All Away
You can’t hide it all. And the more you hide behind a paywall, the less people will trust you to hand over their money. Sure, some will. But most won’t.
I have helped literally thousands of people launch membership sites with my WP-Members plugin, and I am simply amazed at how many people want to hide absolutely every last letter unless the person has paid for the content.
Sorry, but that method does not convert.
Instead of hiding it all, think of leading the person down a path so that by the time they get to the end of the path they willingly pull out their wallet to hand over their hard-earned buck. That’s what you want to happen. To make that happen, give away more content.
Wait. What? How does that work? If I give most of it away, what’s left to sell?
Sean D’Souza relates the concept by describing how he was on a conference call and literally gave the listeners all the steps in his system. And the more he gave, the more they were keen to buy the product. He found this surprising since, by giving away all the steps in the system, there is nothing else to give. But he found out otherwise:
I found out the age-old concept of the bikini to apply. That by giving away 90% of the concept, and keeping 10%, the attraction factor was just as strong, if not twice as strong. And yes, what the bikini didn’t reveal, was the part the audience most wanted, and was the part they were willing to pay for.
Think of it terms of the 80/20 rule (or even 90/10). 20% of your audience will generate 80% of your revenues. Chris Anderson expounds on this in his book Free: The Future of a Radial Price (which I highly recommend that you read). If you can get your arms around that concept, you’ve got a chance of building a strong business with membership sites.
Are you building membership sites or focusing on that as your business model? What works for you? What hasn’t worked so well?