5 tips for how to prepare before you start your membership site

There can be a lot to worry about when you’re just starting out with your membership site – creating content, bringing in members, and getting them to actually pay for your membership isn’t easy!

The last thing you want is to put a ton of work into creating amazing content, building a website, and all that jazz, only to hear crickets…

The good news? There are some things you can do to prepare, so that you aren’t a deer in headlights come launch day. Let’s look at five of them!

1. Validate your minimum viable product (MVP)

Before you do all of the work required to get a membership site up and running, you’ll need to validate a minimum viable product (or MVP). Otherwise, you’re taking a big gamble that all of your hard work will just magically pay off.

Starting a membership site without doing your research and testing your idea is fine if you’ve got extra time and money to kill, but for many people, this isn’t the case. You might think your membership idea is super cool – hey, maybe your friends and colleagues do, too – but it’s still hard to predict with accuracy how it will perform on the market.

Let’s be real: It’s easy to be biased toward your own stuff. The only way to really find out if what you’re offering has serious revenue potential is to let the market respond.

You must validate an MVP.

Just the bare bones

To do this, consider creating a more minimal version of your intended membership site, focusing exclusively on alleviating a specific pain point or solving a specific problem – without any extra bells and whistles. Don’t over-invest; do just enough to determine whether your audience is interested in paying for your basic offering.

If you find that people are willing to pay (and what they’re willing to pay), you can feel more confident in pursuing your membership business as planned. This time is also the perfect opportunity to get useful feedback from your first customers that you can use to improve your membership and tailor your marketing to the right people.

If you don’t want to go the website route yet, you could deliver content via email. For example, many personal brands, coaches, and educational course creators start out with things like premium newsletters and expand to full-blown memberships later on.

Here are a few examples of things that could go from an MVP to a membership:

  • Webinars and training courses
  • Coaching sessions (one-to-one or group)
  • Courses and limited-time programs (such as a 3-week fitness bootcamp)
  • Productized services (such as graphic design, video editing, and copywriting)
  • Exclusive / premium newsletters
  • Community access (forums, discussion groups, meetups)

Your MVP should ideally be priced at least somewhat near the same price point as you intend for your monthly membership; You don’t want members to be surprised by huge price increases if they choose to stay on when your full site launches!

Membership tiers

The great thing about membership tiers is that you can actually use them to validate different offerings. Not sure what to charge for your bare bones membership? Give your audience a few different options and see what works!

The membership model itself may actually be unique within your niche; In fact, if you want leverage over your competitors, the membership model can be a great way to innovate – especially if you need to innovate the business model instead of the product.

2. Make sure you have an audience

Who exactly is going to pay for your membership anyway? It’s important to remember that creating a thriving membership site is not a passive process; the sales don’t come rolling in from simply taking your site online and using membership pricing.

To really generate some momentum and make your efforts worthwhile, you need to have people who are ready and willing to pay for your memberships.

So, how do you find those people?

If you run a digital store and you’re switching over to the membership model, you probably already have a mailing list – and that’s a great place to start! By now, you know that your existing customers are willing to pay for what you produce; It’s just a matter of finding out if they’d be interested in monthly recurring payments, and how much they’d be willing to pay for a membership.

On the other hand, if your membership is geared toward something other than your existing niche, your current audience might not be as relevant. Figure out who your members are – what kind of people need what you’re offering, and where they hang out.

It’s an inside job

One of the best ways to get all of this information and reach the right people is to become a part of the relevant communities yourself (if you aren’t already). Niche forums, discussion groups, and meetup groups are great places to start.

What are your prospective members looking for? What do they need? What are their questions, complaints, problems, and desires? The only way to find out is to hear it from them.

Get inside these communities and start observing. Listen. Take notes! Everything you learn can be used to mold your membership content and your marketing to appeal to these people.

Communities don’t have to be forums and groups alone; They can be anywhere, from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, to real-world events and professional networks.

For more ideas on engaging your target audience:

  • Follow niche-specific topics and hashtags on Twitter and Instagram to see how others are engaging the community. As applicable, adopt these strategies, including things like lingo, imagery, and even memes!
  • Follow industry figures and observe how they interact with their followers. Join the conversation!
  • Check out what your competitors are doing. Think about how you can differentiate yourself from them, too.

3. Build a mailing list

To create momentum with the launch of your membership site, it’s a good idea to build a mailing list ahead of time. Mailing lists not only give you people to market your memberships to; They also provide you with direct access to people who can give you useful feedback.

This feedback can be extremely helpful when deciding what types of content to produce, what subjects to cover, and what changes to make to your website or memberships.

So, how do you get people to actually sign up for your mailing list without having an actual membership to offer them?

Lead magnets

In order to get people to disclose their email addresses in the first place, you’ll need to entice them with something interesting or useful to them. This is where lead magnets come in.

Lead magnets help you get way more email addresses than simply asking people to sign up for your mailing list…just because. Once you’ve built a significant list, you will be better poised to market your memberships directly to people who are receptive to what you’re offering.

Do you have some kind of content that you can package as a downloadable PDF guide, workbook, eBook, or report? These are commonly used as lead magnets and can be created from existing content such as blog posts, videos, podcasts, etc.

You could also give away templates, creative assets, intro courses, or access to exclusive content in exchange for sign-ups. Whatever it is, make sure your lead magnet is relevant to your target audience, and representative of the content that will be published on your membership site!

The other way…

The truth is, you can start your membership site without building an audience first – but in this case, it’s especially crucial that you have the means to create ongoing fresh content so that your members have a reason to stick around.

For example, you could host live webinars, courses, and interviews in real time, and then keep them as part of your membership content. That way, new members get to enjoy the content, too.

Of course, you still need some kind of audience in order to attract members in the first place, but this strategy allows you to get away with less of an audience when you’re just starting out.

4. Create a content strategy

It’s important to have a plan in place for how you’re going to publish and deliver content to your members – especially since ongoing fresh content is the bread and butter of a membership site!

The time for creating this content strategy is before you launch your site. Sure, you’re going to add to it as you go along, but you want to have something organized to rely on during the first days, weeks, and months of your membership site, when you need the clarity to stay on track through all of the adjustments you’re making as a new membership site owner.

Your strategy should be focused on the desired outcome of your members, the journey they take to get there, and delivering the type of content that will keep them coming back to your site on a regular basis. If you want to learn more about creating a content strategy, head on over here and check out the post we wrote about it!

5. Be prepared for support

Pretty much all types of digital businesses require some kind of support – and memberships are no different! However, with things like member areas and dashboards, as well as different content formats and content consumption methods, there are some extra potential issues for members to run into.

It’s also worth mentioning that memberships are all about the member experience, and support can be a big part of that experience! Remember, you want people to want to keep paying for your site month after month.

You know what else? Member support (or customer service, if you prefer) is actually where a lot of pre-sale questions appear. So, it’s doubly important to make sure that you have enough time to dedicate to it – or enough people on your support team to handle it for you!

Make it easy

When it comes to setting up your support process, make sure that it’s easy for your members to contact you. Implement a simple contact form or have your contact information readily available – and even consider offering multiple support channels, such as your social media accounts, email, and your website contact form / support ticket system.

Create an FAQ page or support database

If you want to save yourself some headaches down the line, you might want to think about creating an FAQ page or support database. This helps members find answers to their problems without contacting you.

Your FAQs should focus on things like how to use your products or consume your content, where to find things, how to change or cancel a membership, and how to change a password, for example. But, you can also address topics like your terms of use, community rules, and any support guidelines to help manage member expectations.

Don’t forget about member onboarding

Member onboarding can be the perfect opportunity to get your members acquainted with your site, and clear up any potential confusion before it even happens – saving you some support efforts in the long run.

For example, you could create a welcome video that gives new members a tour of the member area, and shows them where and how to download or access their membership content. You could also give them links to your FAQ section or support database, so they have an easy way to find answers to their concerns, should they arise.

Hey, it’s not so hard

While starting a membership site can feel daunting, hopefully using these tips as guidelines relieves a bit of the pressure! Sometimes it can be better to put a bit more time in upfront to avoid potential issues down the line.

To recap:

  • Validate your minimum viable product (MVP)
  • Make sure you have an audience
  • Build a mailing list
  • Create a content strategy
  • Be prepared for support

What are some of the things you’ve done to prepare for starting your own membership site? What caught you off-guard? What made launching your membership site easier? We want to know! Comment below.

Mandy Jones

About the author: Mandy Jones is a content writer at Sandhills Development and founder of Looplicious. Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, she's a world traveler and animal lover with a passion for creativity and maker culture. When she’s not writing blog posts for Easy Digital Downloads, Restrict Content Pro, and AffiliateWP, she can be found hanging out with other people’s dogs, or writing, recording, and performing music.

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