I was having a conversation with a colleague who was considering building a membership site. He runs a high end mastermind in his industry, and has some seriously great content that is shared with members during and after their in-person mastermind events.

He wanted to create a membership site to house the content from his live mastermind events, and he wanted his members to have easy access to watch and review the notes from those presentations.

A membership site seemed like the perfect solution.

When our conversation started, he was really excited and passionate about this idea because he knew it would level him up from the manual method for content delivery he has going on right now.

He gave me the rundown of what he was after:

Simple, clean site design
Simple structure for housing content
A way to let members download video notes and slide decks

Seems like he knew exactly what he wanted? Right?

Wrong.

As I continued to ask questions about his vision and the functionality and purpose of this membership site in relation to the features available in the software he wanted to use, I could tell our conversation was going sideways. He was uncomfortable and confused, and I could see the details spinning in his mind.

He thought he had the plan figured out, but he underestimated what it really takes to build a membership site that was truly going to fit his needs both in the short term and long term timeframes.

We ended our call when it became apparent that we weren’t going to reach an agreement, and he clearly needed more time to really think about the next steps he wanted to take.

After our call, I started thinking about what I would have liked for him to know during the pre-planning or dreaming stage of building a membership site. The more clarity my clients have about their vision, content, and desired features, the better my team and I can support them in bringing that vision to life.

If you’re in the pre-planning stages of considering adding a membership site to your business model, review the 5 critical steps below so you can get started on the right foot with clarity and focus for moving forward.

5 Critical Steps for Planning Your Perfect Membership Site

1. Know your Vision and Purpose

When you’re considering adding a membership site to your business model, you need to be 100% sure this is the right move for you.

There’s a significant amount of time, energy and money that you need to be okay with investing, and if you’re not sure on why exactly you want to build a membership, you’re never going to be okay with spending the time and money to do it right.

As a Membership Site Expert & Architect, it’s not my job to convince you that this is your next right business step. It *is* my job to help you understand how a membership site will impact your business and what it really takes to plan, launch, and continue running it to see positive results from your decision.

I’m not saying you have to have all of the details mapped out instantaneously, but you have to know with certainty that you want it.

You have to see the end goal clearly.

You have to start with the vision.

Bring me your WHY, and I’ll help you figure out the rest.

2. Organize Your Content

One of the main reasons you want to build a membership site is to make your content and deliverables easily accessible to your customers through an online course, mastermind or continuity program.

Content usually falls into big “buckets” that will translate into a dashboard area on your membership site. If you have several different online courses, each course should have it’s own area in the site that’s easily accessible from a central location.

Maybe you’re creating more of a community membership site, and you want to have an area for a monthly topic or lesson, a directory for members to search and connect with each other, and an area that gives access to call recordings from previous topics or lessons.

If you’re transferring content from a live class or event to the membership site, what do you want members to access? Will you host a video for the learning topic? Will you provide a transcript and downloadable slide decks to accompany the lesson?

Figure out what content needs to live on the membership site, and organize it based on your vision and purpose. If you don’t have a clear vision or purpose, see #1. :)

3. Build a Journey Roadmap for Members

Web design is fun! And it’s definitely a necessary part of building a membership site that will encourage your members to hang out and consume your content, interact and engage.

But it’s not what needs to happen next.

Before you think about what your site will look like, you need to architect the journey your members will take when they visit your membership site. Think of this step as creating a roadmap for them to follow.

Let me give you an example what this journey roadmap looks like:

 

5 Critical Steps for Planning the Perfect Membership Site 1

This member journey roadmap will help you shape the design and front-end accessibility for your site once you have an idea of what the member experience will be, and your web designer will love you forever if you have a clear idea of the journey your members will take when they log into your site.

Without taking time to create a journey roadmap for your members early in the planning process, you risk having to make changes that will impact your timeline, site design, and software functionality expectations.

If you’re working with a Membership Site Expert (oh, hi!), (s)he will help you frame your vision into a journey roadmap that will ultimately determine the complexity (or simplicity!) of your membership site.

4. Pick Your Plugin

If you thought it was time to get busy on that site, I’m afraid you’re still not ready!

Your next step is to figure out what features/functionality you want to include in your membership site and select a plugin that meets (and hopefully exceeds!) your needs and expectations.

This is where my colleague got sidetracked. Because he wasn’t clear on the features he wanted, he felt paralyzed in selecting a membership site plugin that would be perfect for him because he really didn’t know what features would be perfect for him.

To avoid this from happening to you, let’s walk through some features you may want to consider including in your membership site.

Now, before we dive into this, you should know that I’m an AccessAlly Certified Partner, and I 100% believe that AccessAlly is the best choice for a WordPress membership site plugin.

I can say that with confidence because I’ve been helping clients create membership sites since 2012, and I’ve seen it all when it comes to the plugin options for membership sites. AccessAlly will help you create a member experience that will help you sell your product, teach your content, and engage with your members seamlessly and beautifully.

That’s not to say other plugins won’t also get the job done. But you might want a feature that isn’t available in another plugin, and unless you take time to map out the features you want and research your plugin options, you have no way of knowing which one fits your needs the best.

Below is a list of features you should consider incorporating into your membership site plans.

  • Integration with your CRM
  • Protected membership content
  • Allow members to update credit card & billing info
  • Staging & production site settings for developers
  • Built-in Stripe/PayPal payments
  • Course Builder that automatically creates tags, pages, and menus
  • Progress tracking, video bookmarks, and progress-based content unlocking
  • Quiz functionality
  • Cross-selling/upselling optionsMulti-currency capabilities
  • Promo codes and discounts
  • Searchable Member Directory
  • Homework/Private Note submission
  • Activity based automation & tracking
  • Licensing/Team Account functionality
  • Affiliate tracking & reporting
  • Customizable metrics tracking & reporting

Some folks might not need (or want!) all of these features, and that’s 100% okay!

In my experience and in working with numerous clients over the years, it’s always best to lean on the side of having too many features that you *could* implement later if you wanted to instead of choosing a plugin that will just barely let you squeak by with the features you want.

AccessAlly will allow you to build all of these features into your membership site, but I can’t say that about all of your other plugin options.

This is why it’s important to take time and select which features you want to use.

Then research and compare a few different plugin options to be 100% sure you’re making the right choice.

5. Build Your Membership Site

WOOT! You’ve clarified your vision for your membership site, and you’ve outlined your content and mapped out your journey roadmap. You’ve selected the features you want to include and you’ve picked the perfect plugin.

It’s time to start building your membership site!

Disclaimer: this step will *always* take more time than you anticipate it will take. I’d suggest a minimum 8 weeks from start to finish for a basic membership site, and be prepared for a much longer timeline depending on the amount of features and customization you want to include in your site design & functionality. If you launch ahead of schedule, GREAT! If not, don’t take it personally. I told ya so. :)

This is where people will usually have 1 of 2 responses: “Heck yeah! I’m ready to build this membership site myself!” or “No way. I’d rather hire a pro.”

If you’re in the “Heck Yeah. I’m ready to build this myself!” Camp, here’s a rough outline of what you’ll need to do:

  • Get your website set up (hosting, WordPress, Plugins, etc)
  • Finalize your Content
  • Configure your membership site plugin
  • Build automations to integrate your membership site with your CRM
  • Finalize eCommerce / Order Form / Payment setup
  • Test, test, test!
  • Launch your new membership site

It’s absolutely possible for you to DIY this membership site project.

However, there’s a significant amount of time you will spend on this project that will take you away from other priorities in your business, especially if techy set up and development aren’t your thing.

If you have the guts and gumption to go the DIY route, you’ll find communities and knowledge base articles that can help guide you through the process.

If you’re in the “Oh No. I’m Gonna Hire a Pro” Camp, finding the right service provider will be the most important part of your project.

Every service provider is different and will have their own unique skills and expertise, and there’s pros and cons to every single provider.

Some service providers take a more “membership site in a box” method, which is totally cool as a starting point and can shave a little time off your timeline and significantly budget.

Some service providers require that you have a separate web designer/developer who will handle the actual front-end build of your theme and website.

Other service providers walk you through a more collaborative & comprehensive process that involves a strategy that’s customized for your business & goals as well as a full build out and integration with your CRM (Hey! That’s us at Zenplicity!).

It’s important to take time and find the right one for you, based on your vision and purpose, budget and expectation for how the entire project will happen. 

Yes, you’ll spend more money up front to launch your membership site when you choose to hire it out, but you’ll have a customized membership site designed by a professional that will make you proud! And you won’t have to be so distracted and/or stressed about having to figure it out all by yourself.

Like I mentioned, I’m an AccessAlly Certified Partner, and my team and I love developing strategic membership sites for clients that will help them sell their offers, teach their content and engage with their members all while boosting revenue and retention.

We walk clients through our signature process to make sure their vision is aligned with the proper expectations for launching their membership site. We also help them create a journey roadmap.

Then we cover a 42 point checklist to map out our project plan and strategize, design, and build the perfect membership site. Most of our membership site projects are completed within 10-12 weeks, sometimes sooner.

In conclusion: I was happy to hear that my colleague did his homework with researching the plugin he wanted to use and had an idea for what he wanted his membership site to look like.

But I wish he knew that he needed to work through these steps to understand what exactly goes into launching a membership site. Then he would have been better prepared to make an informed decision of whether or not to move forward.

I hope the conversation we had helps explain what exactly you should be focusing on when you’re trying to make your own membership site decision.

If you’re thinking about building a membership site, but you want to talk to an expert before taking the plunge, reach out and let’s schedule a call together. I’d love to share my experience and give you options that work for your business and budget.

About the Author:

Jamie DuBose is the CEO, Launch Strategist & Marketing Automation Specialist at Zenplicity. She helps profitable entrepreneurs make strategic marketing decisions that consistently improve their business & increase their revenue. Her expertise lies in creating targeted, high-performing campaigns that track & use behavior-based subscriber metrics to sell more units to a more engaged audience.
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