10 Mistakes People Make When Starting a Membership Website

If you’re going to succeed with a membership website, you’ll want to avoid making some common mistakes. And if you build membership websites for clients, you’ll want to run through this list with your client before you build a membership site for them. After all, their success is your success.

The truth is that membership websites take a much higher commitment from the site owner, and that’s something you need to know from the start. Owning a membership site means you must follow an array of best practices to convert and generate substantial returns on your investment.

Before going any further, we want to point out that you should read this material with some specifics in mind: The nuts-and-bolts aspect of your website is undoubtedly integral to accomplishing your goals. After all, a lack of functionality will adversely impact the user experience, leading to increased bounce rates that drastically dampen your bottom line.  Plus, we all know that Google’s algorithms tend to frown upon poorly constructed sites, leading to your site not ending up in search results. Still, a membership website worth its salt goes well beyond programming.

The mistakes in this list aren’t related to the technical aspects of starting a membership site, but rather more related to the business side of running a membership site. To put it simply: your membership site needs a business plan.

With this preamble out of the way, let’s discuss 10 mistakes not to make with a new membership website:

1. Not Understanding the Four Membership Models

There are four membership models most commonly used throughout the industry, and understanding them is crucial. Why? You’ll want to figure out how they apply to your specific membership site. After all, you don’t need to invent the wheel.

Content Updates 

With this membership model, your ongoing published content is the main attraction, with your client paying for strictly that. 

Your content can be sent out to these members on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.  

Content Library 

If you choose the library-based model, members obtain access to your entire collection of content, including courses and video seminars. 

Group Coaching

Do you want bang for your buck? Then group coaching is an excellent way to “kill several birds with one stone.” Though, unless you’re a master group facilitator, with skills like Tony Robbins, you’d be charging a more reduced rate per member than if you were doing one-one-ones.

Path to Result

In the “Path to Result” membership model, you’re making a guarantee to members that you’ll help them accomplish a goal or objective by the end of their membership term. 

2. Not Creating a Content Engine

Content is going to be the driving force that converts prospects into members. In addition, quality content does wonders for retention rates, keeping you engaged with your members.

Successful content execution comes down to strategizing, available resources and most importantly, execution. Your content engine should be based on a long-term approach that you should adjust while getting to know your audience better and establish firmer business goals.

Here are a few suggestions you can use to rev a lucrative content engine:

  • Outsourcing – or at least assistance – is often necessary, especially if you need continual content that reaches the masses:
    • Doing everything yourself might overstretch your capabilities.
    • Don’t over-spend on outsourcing—pay for enough to ease the burden.
  • Keep your ear to the ground about relevant industry news and ensure everything put forth is timely and impactful.
  • Cater different content to specific demos—your audience will be diverse no matter how particular the niche:
    • Personalized content speaks loudest and attracts conversions—consider location and device preferences during production.
  • Utilize images and videos on top of the written word—both engage audiences at a higher level than text on its own.
  • Encourage members to share your content by incorporating the necessary devices and platforms.

3. Not Having a Plan for Payments, Renewals, and Churn

All membership sites have a built-in problem: churn is inevitable. That’s why automatic renewals are so important.

Payment schedules designed for automatic renewals all come with their own legal terms and language. Everything should be explicitly spelled out to your members to avoid any misunderstandings over what they’re charged. Write into membership agreements when customers can cancel and decide whether you’ll offer refunds (and under what circumstances you’d provide them). 

There’s going to be plenty of action with membership management. Dealing with coupons, QR codes, and other nuances shouldn’t be handled manually.

These seemingly endless moving parts require some manner of shopping cart software to integrate with your preferred payment gateway (e.g., Stripe or PayPal). Automating this process will remove the headaches and hassles from this more technical side of your business. It’ll also prevent the chance for human error, protecting you from costly mistakes. 

4. Not Building an Audience

Member retention is undoubtedly one of the most integral aspects of your business. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to retain people if there’s nobody in the first place.

You must find ways to expand your reach. This means offering value to leads before they end up signing up. A standard method applied by many membership marketers is offering free seminars on your website and sharing them on your social media channels.

Now, there’s the argument that you’re devaluing yourself by “giving something away.” The art of these kinds of seminars revolves around providing little nuggets that better your audience’s lives. At the same time, these free offerings should be little tidbits compared to the real thing—a mere taste of the real McCoy. 

This functions in a two-pronged way:

  1. Leads will often feel compelled to reciprocate because you’ve given them something valuable.
  2. These prospects are enticed because you’ve proven your worth. They’ll see there’s something to gain by signing up.

Lastly, encourage current members to refer you and share your content by offering incentives, whether it’s a gift or a free consult. 

5. Not Creating a Pricing Strategy

Find out what your industry rivals are charging and determine if you want to compete based on price, or in another realm.

Now it’s time to consider what kind of model you’ll use. Many organizations use the cost-plus pricing model. In this instance, a markup percentage gets added to operational costs to boost your bottom line.

While you can charge low membership fees, this can often devalue your brand and your skills. It makes your offers seem far less of a priority for your customers. Whereas charging a bit more establishes a sense of prominence to your product. This approach can cultivate a level of credibility that members feel they can’t live without—even in times of economic strife.

Thus, the emergence of value-based pricing has taken precedent for many membership prices. This strategy allows you to charge based on what’s being offered to members versus the actual cost. 

You can provide options that allow all members to register for courses and events under a “VIP” category. This provides additional revenue and another layer of pricing by establishing a sense of exclusivity. The perks can be something as simple as a gift (e.g., eBook or merchandise).

Without charging more, incorporating add-ons into pricing (such as free professional advice or publications) builds perceived value. Ensure that the rest of your offer is substantial enough in price to make up the difference of what you’re “giving away.”

Your pricing strategy can revolve around monthly installment options for annual memberships, plus there’s the choice of monthly memberships. 

Monthly memberships, in particular, allow you to turn somebody who might be undecided into a lifelong customer. This hypothetical on-the-fence prospect will be attracted to the low risk that’s involved.

Urgency is another significant factor in your pricing strategy. In combining limited quantities with special pricing over a brief period, you’ll promote the idea that consumers will be missing out on something special. 

6. Not Knowing Your Special Niche

You’re entering a market that’s expected to grow to $22.4 billion in the next few years. Meaning that it’s a saturated market—although not necessarily oversaturated. 

The worst thing you can do when launching a membership website is to introduce a product or service that’s entering a highly competitive part of the space. Somebody will already have a stronghold over that market, and you’ll have no room to gain any footing. That isn’t to say you can’t share similarities with an already established product—but you need to find a way to differentiate yourself. 

Take this example: you can offer similar services to ClickFunnels but differentiate yourself through pricing and demographics.  

ClickFunnels is a preferred choice of large corporations, and the prices reflect that. You can stand by catering to small-to-medium-size businesses at a drastically reduced price. 

Also, you don’t want to try to sell memberships for something that’s too niche. Sure, selling a course called “A Thousand Ways to Use Your Own Ear Wax” might be original, kooky, and creative. But there’s a reason nobody has tapped into that idea—it’s irrelevant.

Finding lucrative niches requires a delicate balancing act. You’re trying to land upon a sphere with little competition on top of viable demand. 

7. Not Finding a Product to Market Fit

Product and market-fit go hand-in-hand with niche, but any overlaps are worth repeating, due to the importance of these factors. 

Most critical is ensuring that a market space exists for your product. Provided there isn’t currently a place for your idea, ask yourself, in-depth, why one doesn’t yet exist.

In the niche section, we brought up differentiating yourself from potential competitors through pricing—but that’s not your only option. 

Brainstorm any possible way that you can bring something unique to your target market. Perhaps, your one-of-a-kind value proposition is increased member engagement. Accomplish this through well-written blogs, entertaining videos, or reaching out via insightful email—but these examples are only scratching the surface. 

8. Not Knowing When to Expand

You’ve entered a business realm that doesn’t require a wealth of resources when you’re trying to scale up. Still, timing is everything, and you need to strike when the iron is hot.

A critical aspect that’ll indicate whether it’s time to expand is knowing your numbers. The website’s key performance indicators (KPIs) will keep you informed of your growth rate, churn, member lifetime value, market sustainability, and viability. This makes it far more straightforward to predict future growth and make informed, well-timed decisions about expansion.

9. Not Deciding on Membership Length and Content Frequency

When it comes to membership length (how long someone will be tied to your services), consider these factors:

  • Offer several tiers for a variety of budgets.
  • A free tier with limited membership lengths and minimal features is a great promotional tool for paid services.
  • Scale upwards with length and price for the more lucrative features or content. 

With regards to content frequency, you should weigh these factors:

  • Ensure that you release content at a sustainable frequency at first.
  • As your business grows, you’ll be able to be more abundant with your content frequency.

10. Not Using the Right Tools

We’ll put our shameless plug here: you need a reliable set of tools to build your membership site. WordPress is by far the best content management system out there. Plus, you can use a WordPress membership plugin like Restrict Content Pro to do the heavy lifting of selling your memberships and restricting your content.

Ready to Take the Leap into Running a Membership Website?

Membership websites are a marathon, not a sprint. Be patient, prudent, and passionate. Building a business takes time and dedication, so make the commitment to your new website to give it what it needs to flourish.

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