Understanding Membership Programs in 10 Minutes – Part 3

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on November 21, 2010 in: Business - Plain & Simple, Business Marketing, Tips in 10

Welcome to the third and final article of the membership program series. With these Tips In Ten article, I’ve wanted to take ten minutes each week to share with you some helpful insight into building membership programs. Membership programs can have a powerful impact on your business because they will save you time while helping you to earn recurring monthly revenue.

I love membership programs and advise many of my clients to build them. You’ll spend a fixed amount of time each month on creating content for your members and your membership can grow to an unlimited amount. Sure, if your members pay $19.95/month and you have 1 member, it might not seem like a lot of benefit if you spend 5 hours a month. But if in the following month you spend 5 hours but grow to ten members, it starts to seem a little better. And if in the month after that you still spend 5 hours but grow to fifty members, it gets even better. And a few years down the road you might still be only spending 5 hours per month on your membership program but you could have hundreds or even thousands of members. That’s some significant profitability!

So we’ve talked about why membership programs are good and I’ve started you on the journey of developing some ideas for your own membership program. Now I want to get really practical. I want to give you some ideas about actually starting up your program. This article is important for this reason: I meet a lot of entrepreneurs who want to start a membership program. And nothing is holding them back from doing it. However, the details of actually getting the program into place can sometimes be enough of an obstacle to keep them from getting it done.

In order to get going with your membership program, you’ll need to create a membership site, a payment processor, and you’ll need a way to manage memberships.

  • Membership site: A membership site is the place that your members get to in order to access the content. It can be a separate website altogether or it can be a section on your existing website. Whatever you choose, it just needs to be secure – a place that isn’t indexed in the search engines and that requires someone to sign in with a username and password.
  • Payment processor: You’ll need a payment processor in order to take the money each month. Ideally, your customers should enter their credit card information once and they get billed each month.
  • Membership management: Membership management is required to make sure that people who have paid get access to your membership site and people who haven’t paid (or who stop paying) don’t get access to your site. In the early days of the web, this was managed “by hand” but there are membership management tools in place that can do this work for you.

These elements make up your membership program. They aren’t necessarily 3 separate things – sometimes you can get applications that do a couple of these functions for you.

Technologies that you might find useful

First I’m going to give you a couple of payment processors to think about:

Paypal: Paypal offers a simple-to-use payment system that accepts recurring payments. They have a basic and advanced option. The advanced options costs a little more but gives you more in return. You can use Paypal’s interface to customize the “Buy Now” or “Subscribe” button. You’ll still need a membership management system to help you keep track of who is authorized to have access and who isn’t.

Authorize.net: Authorize.net is the software that works with banks and permits you to accept credit cards and echecks. This software is a standard in the industry and offers you flexibility with recurring billing and customer payment profiles.

Next I’m going to give you a few membership management programs to look at:

Amember: This program is a popular, easy-to-use membership management program. They sync with payment processors so you can get set up quickly. And they are priced quite reasonably so it makes starting up your first membership program really affordable. It is worth mentioning that they have a 1ShoppingCart integration.

MemberGate: MemberGate isn’t just a membership management site or a payment processor, they offer the actual membership site itself! This makes them a great starting point for new membership site users who want to get started with little or no effort.

Wishlist: Wishlist is a membership site WordPress plug-in. If you run a WordPress website and want to have a membership program, you can use Wishlist to make it happen. It syncs with many popular payment processors so you can easily and quickly build a WordPress membership site. This plug-in is really very powerful and if you run a WordPress site you should seriously consider using it. Check out their list of features and you’ll be surprised at what it can do.

And here’s a shopping Cart system that can bring it all together:

1ShoppingCart: 1ShoppingCart is a leader in payment processing and it’s the one I use for a lot of my sites. It is worth mentioning that you still need a payment gateway/processor (either Paypal or Authorize.net in order to actually accept the payment) I like them because they not only accept recurring payments but they also offer other functions like email marketing. So if you’re looking for a complete system, this could be it. This site doesn’t offer membership management but it does have a great affiliate program so you can encourage your members to sign up other members and they will get some affiliate commission. It’s a great way to build your membership!

Putting them all together: So now it’s just a matter of getting things put together: Create your content, add it to a non-indexed website, get a membership management tool and a payment processor synched together and connected to your site… and you’re ready to go!

These aren’t the only tools you can use but they are fairly standard tools for a fairly standard membership program… and I hope you see how easy they are to get started. If you want to get really creative and are willing to consider other kinds of membership programs, here are some other tools you might consider. (Please note, I have not tried all of these – they have been recommended to me by others so I can’t speak to how easy they are to use. However, I’m mentioning them here because I think they are worth looking into).

Letter.ly: If you want a membership program that isn’t supported by a site but is rather just a paid email newsletter. Letter.ly is one to consider. Payments are processed through Amazon.

SocialSam: If the membership site you want to create is based on the connections between your members rather than exclusively to the information you provide then SocialSam might be the solution for you. SocialSam is a private social network membership site, which means that people pay to join your exclusive social network.

Once it’s all together
Okay, so you’ve built a site (or extended your existing site), you’ve got a membership management system and payment processor in place, and you have some thoughts about content for the next few months (at least). What now?

First you need to add some content. You need to have something there so that your first subscribers will join and immediately see that you have valuable information in place. I’d suggest adding a minimum of one months’ worth of content – perhaps more. Consider adding 2-3 months of content to start so that when your first members subscribe, they’ll see that there is plenty there.

Second, you need to start getting members! You can do this by marketing your membership site in a few different ways. I’ve already hinted at a few of them, but here they are along with some additional ideas:

  • Be sure to add a link to your membership site in all of your marketing – blogs, articles, email signatures, you name it. Generate awareness about your membership site.
  • If your payment processor has the functionality, offer an introductory “test drive” offer where your subscribers get the first month at a substantial discount and the payment is then set to the normal amount for future months. If you have a lot of valuable content in your membership site, this might be a good way to get people signed up.
  • As mentioned, set up an affiliate program where members can refer others to become members and they get a commission for the referral. (Hint: The best kind of commission matches is an ongoing monthly commission every time the referred member pays).
  • Give people a taste of the membership site so they can see what’s inside before they buy. Offer screenshots of what’s inside the membership or even a couple of sample blogs, articles, and videos. Nothing too much – and you don’t have to constantly change it – but just enough to whet their appetite.
  • Have an option for people who aren’t ready to subscribe. There will be people who don’t want to pay the ongoing membership… yet. They aren’t yet convinced that you can provide them with all the value you say you can. So offer them a free newsletter that they can subscribe to. Give some value in the newsletter and build a relationship with them over time. In that way, you’ll convert people who you might have lost otherwise.

Membership programs are fun, easy, and profitable to operate. If you don’t have one set up for your business, you should think about it as a way to take your business to the next level. Use the information in the last three Tips In Ten issues to get set up easily and quickly and start transforming your business from an hourly model to a membership model!

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I love working with coaches, freelancers, and entrepreneurs to help them become more successful. If you'd like to improve your business, find out how I can help.