Have you wondered what a membership website will cost or how you can find a way to afford this next block in the business you’re building?
A successful membership website has a lot of moving parts. But does that mean a membership website cost will be more than the average entrepreneur can afford?
A membership website that’s run well will quickly earn back initial startup costs and easily cover all future operating costs. But it’s helpful to know exactly what you should budget when getting started.
We’ll go over all of the initial and ongoing costs you’ll incur when you launch and run your new membership site in this comprehensive guide.
Let’s take a look.
What You’ll Need To Get Your Membership Site Going
At minimum, running a membership site that’s self-hosted (on your own hosting account or server) will require:
- A domain name
- Site hosting
- A content management system, such as WordPress
- Payment processor
- Site design
- A membership system or plugin
In the vast majority of situations, a membership site is also going to need an email marketing service and, potentially, a media/video host.
As you grow your site, other requirements and costs will become a factor, and we’ll discuss those later on. For now, we’re just going to talk about what the essentials are for your membership website cost.
Self-Hosted vs Cloud Membership Solutions
Cloud membership solutions typically encompass nearly everything you’ll need to run a membership site.
You’ll most likely have to buy your domain and set up a payment processor. After that, most cloud membership solutions take care of everything else.
What’s nice about this solution is that your costs to get started are dirt cheap. On the flip side, the expenses you’ll pay on a month-to-month basis are likely a lot more than you’ll pay by running a self-hosted membership site.
In addition, it’s important to remember that with cloud services, all you’re doing is renting space on another person’s platform. You won’t have a lot of control over how you run your membership.
In other words, in exchange for the convenience of a cloud solution, you’re very limited on what you can do. If you’re serious about running a membership site exactly the way you want to run it, self-hosting is almost always the best way to go.
Do It Yourself Or Hire a Pro?
The first factor to consider when figuring out your membership website cost is if you’re going to DYI it or bring in a professional to do it all for you.
Keep in mind that if you decide on hiring a developer to get everything going for you or build a custom solution, you’ll still need to pay for hosting, domains, and email marketing yourself.
These will be on top of your developer costs, which will almost always be in the thousands of dollars. There’s no way to average out what developers will charge for custom projects. If you decide to go the route of a developer, spend a lot of time shopping around for quotes.
Hosting Your Membership Site
First up, your site needs a place on the web to live. This means you’ll need to arrange site hosting.
Nearly every membership site has a lot more “nuts and bolts” (so to speak) than a typical blog or brochure-style website. It’ll also have more users accessing it and staying for longer time frames. This makes quality site hosting for a membership site an absolute must.
If you cut corners now and go with whatever option is the least expensive, you’ll probably regret it later as your site grows. The best membership websites don’t run on $4 per month hosting.
If at all possible, avoid shared hosting plans. Instead, opt for a VPS hosting solution from the beginning of your endeavor. While this can cost up to $150 per month, the money you’ll lose from a slow site and frustrated users on a shared hosting plan will be much more costly.
- Least expensive option: $4 – 15 per month for a shared hosting plan (not recommended)
- Best option: up to $150 per month for a high-quality VPS host such as Liquidweb
- Expert’s option: $250 – 450 for your own dedicated server. This is more than you’ll need when you begin but will allow you to scale and grow
Membership Site Domain Name
Your site is going to need a web address for users to access it. If you’re creating a standalone membership site, you’ll have to buy a domain name. If, however, you’re tagging your membership area onto a site you already own (members.mycoolsite.com, for example), you won’t need to purchase a new domain.
It’s also a smart idea to buy additional extensions of your domain, such as .biz, .net, .org, etc., to stop anyone else from using your brand name.
Also, keep in mind that if the exact domain name you want is already owned by someone else, you may end up paying thousands of dollars for it.
- Least expensive option: free by creating your membership site as a subdomain of a domain you already own
- Best option: Around $10 each year from a domain registrar such as 123-Reg, LCN, or GoDaddy
- Experts option: $20 – 50 each year for multiple extensions of your domain.
What About the Content Management System (CMS)?
It isn’t easy to imagine a better CMS solution for a membership website than WordPress. And the best news when it comes to your membership website cost is that WordPress is 100% free.
Unless you have exceptionally rare circumstances or requirements, there’s seldom a reason to have a custom CMS created for building a membership site. And even if you did, the developer you hire will mostly create solutions that WordPress already offers.
There are other CMS solutions that exist, like Squarespace or Joomla. But these don’t have nearly as wide of a range of plugins and options for membership sites as WordPress has.
- Least expensive and best option: Free when using WordPress as your membership site content management system
- High-end option: Thousands of dollars for a rarely needed custom CMS
Membership Site Plugins and Platforms
The most critical aspect of a membership site controls a user’s access to content, manages subscriptions, and takes membership payments.
The best WordPress membership plugin will almost always require you to pay for a license. Some, such as Restrict Content Pro, have a free demo option available and gives you the ability to unlock all membership features for a fee.
The coolest thing about Restrict Content Pro is that they offer a lifetime license that you’ll never need to renew.
Other membership plugins on WordPress will charge you a fee for a recurring annual license. A membership plugin called MemberMouse charges a recurring monthly cost. However, you’ll end up paying a lot more each year if you opt for this monthly option.
You’ll also need to think about if you want to add any community elements into your membership site. If so, you’ll need some additional software.
BuddyPress and bbPress are two of the most popular plugins on WordPress for building communities, and both are free. But if you need something more robust, consider looking at Xenforo ($140, then $40 each year) or IPBoard ($175, then $25 every six months).
It’s a difficult process to switch from one WordPress membership plugin to another one. It’s not the best idea to cut costs by trying to start with a free option. As your site grows, you’ll end up with a lot of headaches down the road when it’s time to upgrade.
- Least expensive option: Free demo option, or another free version of a plugin such as Paid Memberships Pro (only for very basic membership needs)
- Best option: $749 for lifetime license of Restrict Content Pro
- High-end option: Thousands of dollars for a custom solution, which is rarely needed
If your membership site is going to walk the walk, it needs to talk the talk. With membership sites, that means that you’ll need to consider the public-facing side of your site as well as the private area for your members.
The membership plugin you choose won’t handle all of the design of your site layout. While some membership plugins have design themes available with their licenses, for the most part, a membership plugin is strictly functional and won’t handle your site design or layout.
And while there is a gigantic market for themes on WordPress, there aren’t many that have elements or templates that are membership site-specific. In other words, you won’t find a lot of WordPress themes that have built-in membership account pages, dashboards, or course layouts.
Assuming that you don’t have a big enough budget to pay for a custom designed site, your options will be as follows:
- Employ a standard WordPress theme. Keep things as simple as possible, and don’t worry about having any detailed layouts that are membership-specific.
- Use one of the drag and drop page building tools, such as Thrive Content Builder, Beaver Builder, or Divi. These allow you to create any custom layout you can imagine, wherever you need to.
- Use one of the few themes tailored for membership sites, such as Memberlite, OptimizePress, or Thrive Themes.
Of course, there’s always the option of a very expensive custom-designed site that will send your membership website cost soaring.
- Least expensive option: Free if you decide to use one of the thousands of free WordPress themes
- Best option: Around $100 (or less) for a premium WordPress theme with a page builder built-in
- High-end option: Thousands of dollars for a custom-designed site
Membership Website Payment Processor
If you’re looking to make money from your membership website, you’re going to need a payment processor, such as Stripe or PayPal. With these solutions, your costs will arrive in the form of transaction fees.
PayPal charges around 3.4% of the value of each transaction, plus another $0.30. These fees can vary based upon location and the type of account you have with PayPal.
Stripe charges a flat rate of 2.9% plus $0.30. The downside is that they hold onto your money for a longer period than PayPal does.
You can take credit card payments on your site using PayPal without sending your users to the PayPal site. This is done by signing up for the PayPal Payments Pro account for around $30 each month. If your membership site has (or will have) recurring payments, you’ll need to spend an additional $10 each month.
If you decide to take credit card payments directly on your site, you’ll also need an SSL certificate to ensure all transactions are secure. You can get an SSL certificate for less than $100 each year, usually through your website hosting company.
You’ll also want to run a powerful WordPress security plugin such as iThemes Security that will keep your membership site safe from hackers and malicious attacks.
- Least expensive option: Free for solutions from PayPal that send your members to the PayPal site to take payment
- Best option: Around $100 each year for an SSL certificate and taking direct credit card payments with Stripe (while still offering PayPal as a payment option)
- High-end option: $100 each year for your SSL certificate, plus $40 per month for the PayPal Payments Pro upgrade and Recurring Payments add on
What About Email Marketing?
While this isn’t 100% essential to run a membership site, the chances are that your email list will be one of the assets you value the most as you build your business.
Email marketing isn’t just about promoting your membership to non-members. It’s absolutely critical for long-term membership retention.
The entry-level email marketing options such as Mailchimp, Get Response, and Aweber are very affordable. However, if you’re looking for advanced email marketing features such as built-in ecommerce and marketing automation, you may want to look at solutions such as Ontraport or Infusionsoft.
- Least expensive option: Free Mailchimp account with up to 2,000 total subscribers and 12,000 emails each month. The free option will include the Mailchimp logo at the top of your emails, which isn’t good for branding.
- Best option: Less than $50 each month for a more robust service such as Convertkit or ActiveCampaign. Costs will be different depending on your list size.
- Advanced option: Up to $600 each month for a full marketing automation suite, such as Ontraport or Infusionsoft (which also includes a set-up fee of $1,000).
Adding Up Your Membership Website Cost
As is now apparent, many factors need to be taken into consideration for your membership website cost. You can get a membership site going for less than $100, or you can spend tens of thousands of dollars creating a custom site with a team of professional developers.
Most membership website owners fall between these two extreme scenarios. Basically, what you’ll end up spending to build and run your membership site will depend on your specific needs, goals, and budget.
Let’s summarize the options:
1. Free Startup, $15 Per Month
If you stick with all of the least expensive options in this guide, you can have a WordPress membership site up and running without spending a single dime.
It’s important to remember, however, that the implications of going the free route will be very limiting in practice.
2. $500 – 700 Startup (Recurring Every Year), $200 Per Month
For most people, the “best option” scenarios will get the job done better than expected. You’ll end up with a powerful setup and all the tools you’ll need to run a successful and impactful membership website.
3. Tens of Thousands For Startup, Up To $1,000 Per Month
If your project is truly unique and can’t be carried out using our best options, then you’ll need to go with the advanced or high-end option.
But even in this case, with the tools readily available on the WordPress platform, it would be not easy to rationalize paying developers tens of thousands of dollars to create a custom solution.
Other Membership Website Costs To Consider
As you grow your membership site, additional costs may arise that you’ll need to consider. Of course, these additional costs will depend on your exact strategy for marketing your site and scaling memberships.
Costs you may want to think about include:
- Paid social media advertising
- Google Adwords
- Video or media host
- Hiring team members, editors, or virtual assistants
- Licensing your training materials
- Plugins for improving support or communicating with your members
- Software like GoToWebinar or Leadpages for promoting your memberships and creating sales assets
Of course, you’ll also want to download and run a WordPress backup plugin to protect your site. If the worst happens and your site goes down for any reason, you can immediately restore it with a plugin such as BackupBuddy.
Once you begin finding success with your membership site, you’ll find that the additional costs you’ll need to absorb will not be too painful.