Let’s take this right back to the beginning.
So you’ve got a GREAT membership idea. You’ve been mulling over it for a while, and you’re certain it’s going to be super successful. Now you need a plan. You’ve got to evolve that idea from inside your brain to a fully functional website… but how?
And more importantly, what’s it going to cost?
What Is A Membership Site?
Let’s first establish what a membership site is.
Membership sites are digital portals full of members-only content. You’re only allowed in if you have paid to be there.
All sorts of businesses use membership sites to gatekeep content so that members who sign up get exclusive access and a huge amount of value. Membership is typically paid on a monthly or annual basis, and members are granted access as long as they are paid up.
Some membership sites use a tiered system, offering different membership levels, and others offer one-time payments, where a single payment is made and access is granted forever.
Features of a membership site might include a content library, a forum and a series of courses. If you’re using the membership model for your business, you’ll likely need to produce new material regularly to keep existing members engaged.
One thing before you jump in. Branding.
Before you can design and launch a membership site, you need to sort out your branding so that it’s all smooth and cohesive. You need a logo, brand identity and all the associated assets that go with establishing a new business.
The cost for this varies. Using sites like Upwork or Fiverr is a great budget option, meaning you could pay as little as £30 to get the job done. If you’re feeling creative, you can also use logo maker tools online and just pay a few quid for the files.
Or if you’ve got too much on your to-do list already, or you’re not confident designing it all yourself, you can hire a professional designer to do the job. And this can set you back anything from £100 to £10000.
Top Tip: Don’t settle for a logo because it’s cheap. Your logo is one of the first things your new customers will see. How they feel about it will determine how they feel about your whole business… you want it to look great and be unique to your membership.
Delivering Your Membership
When you’ve got your branding down, you can start to think about how to deliver your membership. How will you present your offering to potential customers?
This stage is where the real work happens.
Here’s a quick summary of each of the three most popular solutions.
1 - Learning Management System Sites Like Teachable, WildApricot And Thinkific
These are all examples of online platforms that can host your content, and they are super simple to use for creating and promoting membership sites.
How Learning Management System Sites Work
Each of the above uses an intuitive interface, making it extremely user-friendly – even for beginners – and the web-based software automates the management of members, looks after sales tracking and collects membership payments.
When you use Teachable, or any other similar site, to host your membership website, you can benefit from using a custom domain and also add elements of your own branding so that the site remains consistent with your other platforms.
You can join most of these online platforms for a free trial, and by doing so, you get to play around with their website-building tool. But when you’re ready to commit, you’ll need to pay to get the ball rolling and your membership site underway. Things like a custom domain, automated email marketing and advanced reporting are tools that come with a subscription.
Depending on your business needs, you can access Teachable, for example, from $39 a month for their basic package to $375 a month for their everything-you’ll-ever-need business package. WildApricot has a 6-tiered subscription scale, with a personal account costing you $48 a month on one end and an enterprise account – with the capacity for 15,000 contacts on your lists, costing $420 a month.
The biggest and most important benefit of using a site such as Teachable, WildApricot or Thinkific to host your membership site is that they have been designed to be easy to use. Because the easier they are to navigate, the more people will pay to use them.
To keep your website up and running, you’ll need to stick with the monthly or annual subscription costs. Because your website relies on their platform, if it goes down – you go with it. And that means your paying members can’t access their content.
Another limitation of platforms such as Thinkific and Teachable is the simple customisation options. When you pay to have your membership site hosted through their platform, it’s far from paying a professional website creator for something bespoke; there’s only so much you can change to make it look like your own.
And last but not least… Tech support. It’s slow. When you buy anything packaged and off the shelf, you’re part of a huge customer pool, and it takes time to look after so many paying customers.
2 - Website Builder Sites Like Wix And Squarespace
Wix and Squarespace are two brilliant examples of online drag-and-drop website builder sites. Sites like these make web design accessible for anyone and everyone because you don’t need any coding experience… all you need is a web browser and an internet connection.
This also means you can access and work on your website from anywhere in the world, and using any device.
How Website Builder Sites Work
Using a drag-and-drop editor, you can create a website within minutes using an online website builder site.
First, you choose a template to work from that best suits your needs. Each template comes set with built-in image areas, text boxes and other interactive components like buttons, that can be edited, customised and moved around.
To make website builder sites work for a membership site, there are certain features and apps within each platform you can use to help. For example, Wix features Pricing Plans, which allow you to choose who sees certain content that is restricted via a paywall, and Members Area, which is pretty self-explanatory.
However, anyone wanting to build a membership site with Wix needs to already be using an e-commerce plan which is at the higher end of their packages. And remember, add-ons for any website builder site will very likely involve additional costs.
Let’s start with the lower end of commercial Wix packages. The ‘Business Basic’ package comes in at £15 a month for 20GB storage space and 5 video hours. Higher up is ‘Business VIP’ at £27 pcm, with unlimited video, priority customer care and 50GB of storage. After that, you enter into ‘Enterprise Plans’ territory – the big guns. That means you’ll get a dedicated account manager, custom billing and a multi-site dashboard, but you’ll be paying far more.
If you’re looking at using Squarespace to create your membership site, you’ll need to add the platform’s ‘Members Areas’ add-on to your current package. Plans range from £35 a month for their Advanced Commerce package down to £12 for Personal, and the additional member’s areas cost is either £7, £14 or £28, depending on how many video hours and members areas you want, and how little transaction fee you want to part with.
Website builders are fairly easy to use once you get the hang of them.
You get to have your own domain and secure hosting.
There are a few ways you can build value for paying customers – and some integrations and add-ons are free – however many have limited use or you have to upgrade to get the full benefit.
Whilst website builders aren’t as restrictive as learning management system sites, the layout is still quite blocky and doesn’t allow much creativity, especially in the member’s areas. Unless you’re used to using them, the way website builders work isn’t very intuitive, which can be frustrating and time-consuming for novice users.
The same issue with slow tech support is a problem with website builders, too, because of the sheer size of their customer base. And there may be monthly or annual payments to keep up with so that your website stays up and running.
And lastly… poor scalability. Up to a point, a website builder membership site works well-ish. But if your website gets high traffic and you need more storage, video hours and member areas, you’re a bit stuck! Especially since you can’t export your site at all – so a change in platform requires a total rebuild.
3 - Membership Specific Website Development
Bringing on board a web development company that specialises in membership sites is the third way of making your great idea come to life.
How It Works
Hiring the professionals to build you a membership site to your exact wants and wishes works perfectly.
Of course it does. Because every single element of your new site can be customised to your requirements, you can flood it with strong branding and make sure you’ve got everything you need to make it a success.
Bringing in an individual or team of web developers can cost anywhere from £1,000 upwards, depending on your requirements. For a high-end membership site with endless integrations, you’re looking more towards the £10-15k mark.
Self-hosted sites require much more set-up costs and time but offer no ongoing monthly fee, unlike the website builders, which tie you in for the lifetime of your website. You also have a site you 100% own and can expand upon as you wish.
A website built from scratch by a professional web development company can be 100% tailored to meet your needs, making it a long-term solution that has the capacity to grow with your business.
When you bring in a team to build such a site, you’re also benefiting from:
- Expert support the whole way through the build and beyond. These guys have seen it all, and their professional expertise reduces the time spent trying things out that don’t work.
- Access to speedy tech support.
- Marketing know-how that will help you to market your site for launch, getting you the best start money could buy.
- As many integrations as you need to make managing your membership site simple.
- A membership site that is 100% your own.
There’s no ignoring it. A customised, professionally designed and developed website is more expensive. However, there is no ongoing monthly fee to worry about, unless you choose to take up add-ons, like Memberlab’s hosting and support packages.
But that’s it. That’s all there is. This membership site solution is totally tailored to fit your exact needs. You don’t need to compromise on anything whatsoever.
Starting A Membership Site Isn’t Cheap
Even opting for low-cost solutions takes an investment of both money and time – and time has a value, too. Plus, as your membership increases, you are more than likely going to outgrow the cheap platform of choice…
And that means doing it all over again. More time, more money, for something you’re still compromising on, that isn’t 100% yours.
You can’t put a figure on membership sites, but we hope we’ve given you an indication of your options and the costs that go with them.
To find out more about Memberlab and how we can support you in making your membership site idea a reality, book a demo call.