Tips for switching from a standard digital product site to a membership site

Recently we’ve been talking about how to incorporate memberships into your existing business, but what if you want to completely revamp your digital product site into a full-blown membership site?

The membership model is a different way of delivering content to your audience, requiring monthly subscriptions and ongoing value for the customer that makes them want to stick around and make recurring payments.

If you already have a digital product site, you’ve got the most important part ready to go – the content! But in order to move to the membership model, you’ll need to rethink the structure of your business (and your website).

Let’s take a look at some tips you can refer to when making the switch, so you can start to enjoy the benefits of running a membership site!

Use your existing products to configure your membership structure

Do you already have different pricing levels for your digital products (such as standard and premium)? They might fit just perfectly into membership tiers. Using your existing products as a guide can help you re-organize your content in a way that makes sense to new members and existing customers alike!

Maybe you currently upsell add-ons and bonus content alongside your products; these things can function as premium content – and premium content is known to drive top-tier membership sales. Or, for example, you might already sell packages and bundles of similar beginner-level products. Consider using them to define your most basic membership tier.

Are there products in your store that aren’t selling as well anymore? You might decide to offer them as part of a free membership tier. Free memberships not only generate more leads; they also create customer confidence in your content (often leading to more sales), boost your brand reach and awareness, and give you data that you can use to make content or site improvements.

Re-think your pricing

When it comes to pricing your memberships, draw on the experience you have running your existing digital product store (factoring in your costs, product value, expertise, etc.) to gauge a baseline price. From there, you can adjust your prices based on things like your monthly revenue goals, new costs (such as membership platforms and plugins), the number of tiers you want to have, and your competition.

It’s important to note that recurring payments are a different beast altogether – and while customers may be paying smaller amounts at a time, the end result can be significantly more revenue for you in the long run. Hey, there’s a reason why membership sites are so popular!

Don’t forget to make sure your payment processor supports recurring payments. Stripe and PayPal do, but some others may not, so it’s always best to double-check! You’ll also need a plugin like Recurring Payments (or similar) to add this functionality to your existing website.

Come up with a workable content strategy

With the membership model, there’s a higher demand for consistently fresh content, so you’ll need to think about how you will replenish your content on a regular schedule. Memberships are all about value – in particular, the real-world benefits that members experience when they subscribe.

Members must feel confident in paying a recurring monthly fee in order for a membership site to thrive, so they need to perceive good value for their money. This is even more applicable when you’re switching over from a digital product store because you’re asking your customers to pay you every month, as opposed to whenever they happen to want a new product.

Think about how you can repurpose your existing content, and how you can generate new content efficiently. Creating content in batches can be particularly helpful because it allows you to drip feed it over time, delivering consistently fresh goods to your members and giving you some breathing room, too!

Decide if you want to use a credit-based system

Some membership sites give members credits that can be used toward downloads. Of course, your decision to use credits or not will depend on the type(s) of digital products you sell.

If your content is intended to be consumed entirely online (as in the case of web apps or video content), you might decide that it makes more sense to create membership tiers that offer certain levels of access. However, if your brand consists mainly of downloadables like graphic elements, documents, or creative templates, perhaps you’d prefer to give your customers a certain number of downloads per month with a credit-based system.

Market to your existing customer base

One of the best things about starting a new membership site as a digital product store owner, is that you have a built-in customer base. Your existing mailing list, for example, is the most obvious source for new member sign-ups – and you can use this to your advantage!

Appeal to different mailing list segments with marketing efforts that are relevant to them; this can include access passes based on content preferences, past purchases, or engagement trends. Mine your current data from things like heat mapping and analytics to inform your membership marketing strategy.

Bring your most loyal customers onboard first

Do you have customers who have been with you for a while? How about customers that have made big purchases, or ones that make regular purchases? These are some of the best people to get on board when you first switch over to the membership model.

Consider giving your most loyal customers a special discount and/or privilege like early access. These kinds of incentives help to reinforce how important they are to you, and can secure a solid starting member base. Even if these high-value customers are more likely to stick around anyway, gestures like these can reinforce your foundation and your relationships.

Remember, when you switch to a membership site, you want to focus on customer loyalty more than ever!

Put more energy toward your industry authority

Your existing digital store may be highly product-focused, and you might not be personally “up front and center”. Well, depending on what you’re selling, you might want to reconsider this stance when you launch your membership site. Why?

Some of the most successful membership sites are based around specific niche knowledge and expertise – and expertise requires an expert! Memberships have the potential for serious growth (vertical scalability), and expanding your presence can make a big difference. It’s not just the products and content anymore; it’s a whole membership ecosystem derived from them. It’s also a lot more motivating for customers to give their money every month to someone they know and support wholeheartedly.

Focus on community

Maybe you already have plenty of social media engagement and discussion groups for your digital store – if so, great! If not, this can be especially effective when it comes to growing your membership site. Building a community around your membership site breathes life into the whole experience for your members, and it does a lot for your business, too.

Having a thriving membership community can:

  • Increase member engagement
  • Cut down on support requests, as members can help each other
  • Keep your site “sticky”
  • Increase your brand reach
  • Give you usable data and feedback
  • Prime your members for future products, services, and marketing campaigns

Let your customers know what to expect

One more important part of the process is notifying your existing customers. This is not just because you want to create some hype; it’s a basic courtesy to inform them of major structural changes to your site, including how they will be able to consume your products and content, and what it all means for them in the grand scheme of things.

A sure-fire way to confuse your customers (and perhaps put them off altogether) is to just surprise them out of nowhere, with no advanced warning of such significant changes. Needless to say, communication is key! Your sincere efforts to inform and prepare your audience will be appreciated!

Get ready for the transformation

You’ve decided it’s time for a change, so now you’ve got to embrace it! The good news is that you can bring in all of these new (or improved) elements while retaining the best parts about your existing brand – things like your signature style, image, message, and quality standards.

It might even be time for a total re-brand; maybe you want a fresh coat of paint to go along with your new membership digs! New imagery, promotions, and content are all exciting to you and the customer, so don’t be shy in creating some buzz and anticipation as you gear up for the switch. It can be scary stepping into the unknown, but hopefully this post has given you some useful guidance!

Have you switched over to the membership model from a digital product site? What experiences and insights do you have to share? We’d love to hear them, so leave us a comment below!

Mandy Jones

About the author: Mandy is a content writer at Sandhills Development, singer/songwriter/musician, and founder of Looplicious. Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, she's a frequent traveler and animal lover with a passion for creativity and maker culture.