How to Launch a Membership Site in 2013

This is a guest post by Karol K.

It’s no secret that various membership based services are getting more and more popular every year. Actually, the whole craze is not that much about the individual successful services, but more about the whole idea of making something membership-based in general.

We all know companies like Netflix and Hulu – both have been using the membership model for years now. But video streamed on demand is not the only niche for memberships. These days, customers can sign up to a range of interesting things. For instance, some of the more intriguing ones:

  • BagBorroworSteal – handbags on demand (members can rent handbags instead of buying them).
  • NewBeauty TestTube – sampling new beauty products every month.
  • BeCouply Dates – one awesome date a month; for couples (now this is what I call true online dating!).

And this is just a small part of what’s available (I don’t even want to get started on all the online games). Plus, there are more and more services sprouting up every week.

The reason is simple. People. Love. Memberships.

Why? Because they’re cheaper than buying something for keeps. Let’s take a look at the handbags on demand service – BagBorroworSteal. It’s no mystery that a designer, quality handbag can cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. It simply makes sense to rent it for a fraction of the price and then amaze your friends at a party just as much.

(If you need some more data to believe that memberships are indeed the new black then just take a look at how Netflix is doing (via WolframAlpha) – the section labeled as recent returns indicates a 630%+ growth in the last 5 years.)

The big picture here is this: Membership sites and services are here to stay. They are just a more customer-friendly way of doing business and delivering goods.

Which brings me to…

What if you’re a business owner and you want a piece of this membership pie too?

Surprisingly, launching a membership-based online business is quite simple, and cheap (at least when it comes to the technical stuff).

Now, let me set one thing straight. It is cheap, as long as your product can be delivered in a digital form. If you’re the next handbags-on-demand company then it will require some additional setting up.

For instance, I’m a freelance blogger and writer. The membership program I would launch would be focused on digital training for fellow writers and people who want to take their freelance writing career to another level. In a word, everything would be computer-based, so no additional expenses for me. You can easily imagine similar membership programs in other niches. Some more examples: software, content, online articles, videos, tutorials, training materials, freelancing resources, and other digital products.

Without further delay, here are some of the most cost-effective methods of today:

WordPress + WishList Member

WordPress is a pretty recognizable brand online, but just to make sure that we’re on the same page, let me give you a quick heads up. WordPress is one of the leading website management platforms available, and there’s a good reason for this… It’s free, easy to manage, customizable, and extremely functional. In fact, the very blog you’re reading right now is a WordPress blog.

However, it still gives you kind of a manual way of launching a site. I mean, you have to get a domain, a web host, and then install WordPress by hand (either yourself or with some help).

And what you need to do then, since we’re talking membership sites, is to get WishList Member – a premium WordPress plugin. Single site license is $97, multisite is $297.

This is a solution designed for the more internet and website savvy crowd. The fact that you have the site self-hosted means that you can do a lot more when it comes to customization, but you have to be knowledgeable about the internet technologies in order to do so.

That being said, WishList Member provides just way too many cool membership features to list them all here, so feel free to check the official site.

WordPress + Membership

Another possible combination, which I like to call “free + free” is the pair of WordPress and a different plugin that’s simply called Membership (free).

Essentially, launching a site through WordPress + Membership is very similar to doing it through WordPress + WishList Member, only this time you don’t have to invest money. (Well, okay, you still need to get a domain and a web host, but that’s a whole different thing.)

The plugin Membership offers a nice range of features, but it’s not as rich as the other solution on this short list. In the end, if you just want to get started with membership sites as quickly as possible then this may be the best way for you to test this whole business model and concept.

What’s next?

No matter what method of launching a membership site you choose, you still have a lot of work to do when it comes to the actual business tasks, which I’m sure you’re aware of. After all, software won’t do everything on its own. The businesses mentioned above didn’t become popular purely because of the quality of the software solution they were using.

That being said, the membership model is working quite well for mid to big sized brands online already. Will it work for small businesses and startups? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. But products like WishList Member and Membership surely make it easier to happen.

Personally, I think that the sole fact that a person with a cup of coffee by their side sitting at home can launch a membership site in a matter of minutes is simply amazing. Thank you, 21st century!

What do you think about membership sites and their place among modern business models? Is it just a fad or will it last?

About the author: Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a freelance blogger and writer. Every day, he uses SEO and blogging to grow his brand. He writes and publishes posts about freelance writing (to be exact, about how to get paid to write online). If you want to join the freelancing world yourself then feel free to pay him a visit at Writers in Charge.

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  1. says

    Nice post!
    CMS based software has changed the face of the internet. Almost anyone can create/publish their own website with just few clicks. What matters now is how you promote and market your website :)

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