With the value of subscriptions projected to hit $905 billion a year by 2026, membership websites aren't just a fad--they're fundamentally shifting the way business is done.
From brands building brand communities to independent creators leading thriving communities to the world's top subscription businesses, membership sites are recurring revenue businesses that it seems everone wants a piece of.
This article will show you how to join the billion-dollar membership economy, whether you're going all-in on your first membership site or adding it to an existing business.
Here's what you'll learn:
- What a membership site actually is and isn't
- How brands are generating 7+ figures with membership websites
- Who should create a membership site
- How to create your own membership website
If you want more support in building your online community, come join OUR Mighty Community for free and meet other new and established community owners! We’d love to meet you. Join for free!
What is a membership site?
A membership site is an online website or platform that delivers value to paying members: things like content, experiences, education, or entertainment. While most definitions of a membership website are broad, we prefer to think of a membership site as requiring engagement between members, while a subscription site focuses more on delivering gated or premium content.
Membership websites often require a recurring monthly or yearly fee to become and stay a member. They may be open to join or require an application and vetting process.
A membership website opens up long-term connections, ongoing community engagement and touchpoints, and recurring revenue.
Membership websites come in all shapes and sizes and can be started by anyone from mega-brands to small groups with shared interests.
Features of a membership site
Ask different people what a membership site is and you'll get different answers. But for our purposes, here are some of the features a good membership website or membership site platform needs.
- Engagement tools: Building real membership value requires member engagement and communication between members and Hosts.
- Gated access: The principle that makes most (not all) membership sites work is that not just anybody can get in, usually membership is through a paywall or application/vetting. This can boost the psychology of belonging and member dedication.
- Content tools: Membership sites run on content. A membership platform needs to host and deliver things like posts, videos, livestreams, and events.
- You own it: Whether it's on your website or on a standalone membership platform, a social media following isn't a membership site. You need ownership of the member experiences (and should't be fighting an algorithm).
Examples of membership sites
- Doug Neill turned his passion for visual note-taking into an awesome membership site that teaches the art: Verbal to Visual.
- Boston While Black: A membership site that offers a safe space for Black students, professionals, and entrepreneurs based in Boston to come together, activate change, and build relationships.
- The Village by Happily Family is a paid membership site that offers parents and educators a supportive community and the tools to foster healthy relationships with children.
- ArtSnacks Mix is a membership community for subscribers of ArtSnacks, an art supply subscription box.
- The Journey of Intrinsic Health, created by Zach Bush, MD, helps people think differently about their health. It includes his flagship course, a supportive community, the option of personalized 1:1 or group coaching, and livestreaming events.
- Code Red is an online nutrition and weight loss community founded by Cristy "Code Red" Nickel. It provides members everything they need to lose weight and take control of their health.
- Martinus Evans grew to 95,000 Insta followers talking about being a "back of the pack runner," and created a membership community from it: Slow AF Run Club.
Amazing wins we've seen from our members
- A non-profit onboarded 9,000 national members on their own app.
- An entrepreneurship organization launched to 5,000 members and made $30,000 in under 3 weeks!
- A health-focused launch to 100 high-ticket members added $40,000 in ARR.
- An author & speaker launched a 4-week promotion and saw an additional $30,000 in revenue.
- A podcaster and author sold 5,000 seats to a $997 course in 10 days.
- One social impact SAAS company added a membership app to their regular conferences and saw a 70% increase in contributions & engagement.
Whether your vision for a membership website is big or small, launching one can transform your business and brand!
Who should create a membership site?
Reasons to create a membership website
- You want to build long-term, meaningful connections with and between members.
- You have a clear Ideal Member who will benefit from belonging.
- You want to build spaces where people can find real belonging (in a world of "likes" and "follows."
- You have a shared Big Purpose bringing your community together
- You want a recurring revenue that can easily build some respectable ARR
- You’re in it for the long-haul. Membership sites aren't a flash in the pan. It may take some time to find your stride.
- The transformation or journey you’re selling takes a long time and members will benefit from walking through it together.
Reasons you shouldn’t create a membership website
- You’re not willing to engage over time
- You’re selling a quick solution
- You don’t have a clear Ideal Member
- You don’t have a passion for your topic
- You’re not willing to gate some of your content efforts
How to create a membership website (12 Steps)
Step 1: Choose a topic that’s important to people
The first step in a membership website is to find a topic that's important enough for people to become members.
That might seem super obvious, but hey. You need a topic people care about, AND that they’re willing to engage on over a period of time.
If that sounds like a limitation, don’t worry! We’ve got successful membership websites dedicated to ALL SORTS of different things, from people learning bullet journaling to nurses supporting each other, to interior designers studying for their qualifying exam. (There’s a list of 36 amazing membership website examples below!)
So if you’re looking to unite people around a shared love of Norwegian death metal or passion for butterfly migration, don’t worry – you can probably find people around the world who will say “Heck Yes!” to that.
The diversity of online membership websites is an amazing thing!
Here are a few popular subjects for membership websites:
- Career & professional memberships
- Personal finance & investing
- Health & wellness
- Religion & spirituality
- Hobbies & interests
- Art & creativity
- Philosophy & big ideas
- Skills development
- Sports & games
- Products & brands
And lead from your story…
As you do the important work of figuring out what type of membership website you’ll start, don’t be afraid to dig deep into your story and uncover what it is that will bring your unique voice to your community: either your personal story or your brand story.
What makes you unique? What challenges have you solved? What parts of your identity or background give you a unique take?
Many of the most successful membership sites on Mighty Networks were spearheaded by people who followed their curiosity and connected people around an interest. In the process, many have created six-and seven-figure incomes via their membership sites.
If you’re drawn to a specific topic, it’s a good sign that you are more qualified than you think.
Step 2: Focus on a narrowly defined Ideal Member
Once you have a clear, motivating topic for your membership site, it’s natural to want to make it available to everyone.
NOPE! STOP RIGHT THERE!
One of the fastest ways to fail before you even get off the ground is by not knowing who your membership website is for.
If you try to serve everybody, you often end up serving nobody.
When you look at membership sites that are thriving, what do they have in common? They each started with a very specific, clearly defined Ideal Member to serve first. Go interview 20 or 30 potential Ideal Members. It’s a bit of work, but you’ll never regret it.
This will give you a clear picture of what they need, problems they have, and transformations they’re hungry for.
What are the ways that you can narrow your initial ideal members? Here are a few starting ideas:
- How would you characterize them if you saw them walking down the street?
- Are your initial ideal members at the same life stage?
- Do they share a profession or aspire to a specific role or career?
- Do they come from a similar background or geographic location?
- What are their goals or motivation to join your membership site?
- Why aren’t they able to achieve these goals on their own?
Focus. Focus. Focus.
We have training to find your Ideal Member in our Mighty Community, and it's totally free to join! You can find it here.
Step 3: Create your Big Purpose Statement
Once you know what your Ideal Member is looking for, you can start one of our favorite parts of Community Design™: Creating your Big Purpose.
A Big Purpose is the raison d'être for your community. It states who your members are, the transformation you’re taking them on, and the reasons for it.
It looks something like this:
But you don't need to agonize over your Big Purpose statement! Our AI-powered generator will create one for you. Plus, it will add in a community name, visual identity, tagline, landing page, invite message, welcome post, and more.
Step 4: Choose your membership website platform
We’ll talk about a few options below, but before we go there, let’s keep it simple. Think about the features you need to make your community great AND the price you’re willing to pay to get them.
There are two different models for building a membership website:
- Add a plugin or software to your existing website (more difficult). For example some people use WordPress plugins like MemberPress to create memberships on a WordPress site. But it's tough to get the right look and feel without custom development.
- Use a dedicated membership platform like Mighty Networks. If you want it to feel native to your website, you can easily match the brand and feel and host it as a subdomain.
Here are a few questions to ask when checking out modern community platforms.
- Will it let me build a membership business (payments, building plans and bundles, etc.)?
- Can I create beautiful, diverse content?
- Are there lots of great engagement tools (e.g. polls, quizzes, video, articles)?
- Can I create cool shared experiences like live streaming and live events?
- Could I add Spaces that hold things like courses and events?
- Is it available on an app for all my members?
- Will it give me detailed analytics so I can see what’s working?
- Can I manage the members and add other Hosts?
This feels like a good time to tell you that these are the features we care A LOT about at Mighty Networks, and that’s why we’ve baked everything you need into our platform. You can do everything we mentioned above and more.
It’s literally the only program or software you need to create an engaging, responsive membership website.
Pro Tip: On a Mighty Network, you can choose HOW your members join. Some communities opt to leave membership open for anyone who wants in. Some want members to apply and only let them in once approved. You can do either.
Step 5: Create your Year in the Life
Where will your members be one year from now because they joined your membership website?
This is one of the questions we love to ask during Community Design™. It helps clarify where you’re going and the transformations you want to provide.
From this, you can work backward and fill in monthly themes, and sketch out some weekly activities that support them.
You DON’T have to have every week and day of your membership website planned before you launch.
But creating a Year in the Life statement and starting to get a broad idea of how you’ll get there will help you coordinate the content you want to provide and the journey your community will take together.
Step 6 Pick your starting price
You can now choose a starting price. And to do this, you’re probably starting to think about your business model.
Your platform should give you different ways to charge. You can charge for community membership, subgroup membership, courses, events, or bundle all of these.
There are three key principles to keep in mind when choosing a starting price for your membership site:
If you are starting from scratch, keep it simple and just offer one level.
While you may be tempted by all of the membership tiers you could create when you start a membership site, pick something simple and make it valuable. Consider what will make your members successful in what they want to achieve, and focus here first.
As you build this initial high-value tier, remember that it’s not about content, an online course, or even your own coaching time alone. Your community and the connections you will make between members will likely end up being the reason your people achieve the results and transformation in their career, health, and wellness, or other important interests they want.
Price it at what it’s worth (which is typically more than you initially think).
If you’ve done the steps above, you’re ready to deliver a ton of value. So don’t undersell yourself.
When you’re thinking about pricing your membership site, think about what that transformation or support would really be worth to someone, or what they’d have to pay to get that elsewhere.
And don’t forget that people value what they pay for.
And by being valuable to people, it means you can charge more money than you’re probably comfortable with. We think about it as “pricing at a premium,” which is when you charge at least $299 per year ($24.91/mo) or offer a one-time fee of no less than $499.
When you’re ready to add membership tiers, it’s easier to move “down” than “up.”
It is always easier to start high and surround your members with a lot of support and benefits than pull back features for lower-priced tiers.
When you start a membership site with limited benefits at a low price and then try to move “up market,” it’s much harder to tell what people need to be successful, which drives how high of a price they’ll pay.
Rather, start your membership tier(s) packed with value and goodness and charge a premium. You’ll learn the most this way and get your initial members the best results, which is easier to adjust and build on over time.
Step 7: Design your New Member Experience
So you’ve chosen your community platform, and you’ve planned out who your membership website is for, what they’ll get from it, and what it will cost them.
It’s time to put up some virtual drapes and a welcome mat.
This means creating a new member experience. What will members see first when they come into your community? Will they say “WOW!” or “That’s it?”
And even more importantly, will they jump in and get engaged? Or will they sit back and watch, slowly slipping into the shadows?
A New Member Experience helps them cannonball into the deep end and get engaged FAST. And it can be automated to be amazing.
We have a full and free training on creating a magical new member experience here.
Step 8: Develop a marketing plan
You don’t need to overthink this, but it’s worth considering how you’ll get word about the community out to your members.
To start with, talk to your Ideal Members you interviewed! Invite them to join. It’s a great first step.
After this, look at the other tools at your disposal. Here are some simple ways you can plan to fill your community:
- Inviting people personally
- Reaching your email list
- Posting on social media
- Hosting a webinar
- Adding a link to your website
Step 9: Recruit your first members
With your marketing ideas in place… you know what time it is. Time to recruit your first members to your new membership site!
For a variety of reasons (especially related to the way that Facebook and Instagram make their advertising money), don’t assume you’re going to put your membership site out there and see it go viral.
Instead, set a modest goal for your number of members out of the gate and work your personal and professional networks to recruit those people.
Because you are pricing at a premium ($299 or more per year), you can set up a membership site with 10 or even 15 people and still make the financial return worthwhile.
Let’s do the math: If you can get 10 people to pay you $299 per year, that’s $2,999. And if you can do that, then there’s no reason you won’t be able to get 20 people, then 30 people, then 100 people to pay you the same over the next few months.
It's math we love, and it's why membership sites are more profitable than any other platform.
Slow and steady... It’s how lots of membership sites with tens of thousands started off.
Step 10: Host a welcome event
Once you’ve got a few members committed and some interest, consider hosting a welcome event! It's the perfect way to kick off your membership website and get members excited to be there.
Welcome events can range from complicated (a conference with special speakers) to simple (a “Get to know you” Happy Hour). The right welcome event will depend on you.
Here are some things you could include in a welcome event:
- “Get to know you” roundtable
- Happy hour
- Interview with an expert
- Community member spotlight
Step 11: Be consistent
When starting a membership website, it’s easy to get caught up in big ideas that require a lot of execution. Which is fine!
But the problem comes when those big ideas zap your energy at the beginning and you lose the most important trait of all: your consistency.
Slow and steady. Consistency beats flash every time. Be consistent over time and you’ll see results. If you go hard for a month and then lose interest, you won’t.
Step 12: Keep learning
The choices that you make when you create a membership website aren’t set in stone. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try new things.
A network of people mastering a topic together creates the fastest path to new solutions, creative problem solving, and uncovering previously hidden opportunities when the rules change overnight.
The ideas you had when you first decided to build a membership website probably won’t be the perfect solution after you launch. That’s okay! In fact, experimenting with how you create content and interact with members is the fun part.
The most successful creators of membership sites treat their jobs like detective work. They love to ask questions and listen to their members (or ideal members before they have any); experiment with new benefits to see what works, and reframe what doesn’t work into a new set of questions that help them get more specific about who they serve.
How to create a membership website: Checklist
- Choose a topic people care about
- Define your Ideal Member
- Build your Big Purpose
- Choose your membership website platform
- Design your Year in the Life
- Pick your starting price
- Design your New Member Experience
- Develop a marketing plan
- Recruit your first members
- Host your welcome event
- Be consistent
- Keep learning!
The 5 Best membership website builders
As we said above, we’ve got a post dedicated to the best membership site platforms. So we won’t rehash all of this here. But let’s look quick at 5 options for building a membership website.
Mighty Networks' cultural software gives you an all-in-one membership website builder that comes with an engaging community platform and the option to add immersive, intuitive online courses plus amazing live events. It's content, community, courses, and commerce, all in one place.
With the option to add flexible Spaces with features like live streaming, membership bundles, discussions and polls, live streaming, and integrated events, it’s got everything you need to create a fantastic membership website. Plus, it comes with an app that works on every device.
And like we said above, Mighty Co-Host™ harnesses power of ChatGPT-4 to will build you:
- A Landing Page
- A Tagline
- Social Announcements
- A Welcome Post
- Starting Community Questions
Mighty makes it radically easier to build and monetize a memberhsip website! And Mighty comes with a ConvertKit integration, meaning you can combine community and email together seamlessly!
Mighty Pro takes G2's top-rated community platform and deploys it on your own branded app. It's YOUR brand in the App Store and Google Play Store and we take care of the details AND back you up with an incredible team.
Schedule a call with us to learn more.
Wild Apricot is a membership site for non-profits that gives them ways to manage membership, create discussions, and organize member lists. It’s got a drag-and-drop website builder, as well as features for managing local chapters of a wider association.
Teachable is an online course platform that gives you the space to make a membership site based exclusively on a static course. It lets you build a landing page to sell your course, and takes care of the checkout process. It also has an affiliate program to help you sell.
It’s limited in its lack of community and the fact it only has an iOS app (no Android) but it’s an option for a course-heavy membership website.
If you’ve already built on WordPress and you’re determined to stay there, Memberful is a plugin that can transform it into a membership site. It lets you monetize a membership, gate content, connect Stripe for payments and add coupons.
31 more membership website examples
- FWFG Kula: A membership community 200,000 strong created by Adriene Misher, founder of the YouTube Channel- Yoga with Adriene.
- LO Sister: A membership community for young women to make connections, live life to the fullest, and grow in their faith.
- The Self Care Space: A community making mental health resources available for young women.
- PLANTSTRONG: A membership community 20,000 strong dedicated to following a plant-based diet.
- Tuft the World: A community of 6,500 rug tufters.
- Nurses Inspire Nurses: A community of nurses coming together to support each other in their unique challenges.
- The Wealth Builders Community: A personal finance community, founded by Ashley Fox, to teach and empower the people Wall Street wouldn’t talk to.
- Designing the New Legal: A community bringing anti-racist training to the legal profession.
- Topstitch Makers: a paid membership website and community for sewing, hosted by Leigh Metcalf.
- Outwild Hub: The community making the outdoors fun again for its 2,000+ members.
- Beyond Type 1 & Type 2: 2 Communities dedicated to helping people with diabetes support each other and find resources.
- Oiselle Volée: A membership website for women runners, hosted by the brand Oiselle.
- Bujo U: A community dedicated to learning bullet journalling.
- Indie Birth Association: a community bringing together doulas, midwives, and pregnant and birthing women with resources and support around autonomous birth.
- Outer Work: Aa paid membership website and community for education, reflection, and direct action around anti-racism.
- Sociality: A free community connecting creatives, from photographers to storytellers.
- The Institute for EMBODIED Living: helps women navigate and embody self-love, healing, wholeness, and liberation.
- Qpractice: A paid membership site that gives interior designers the tools and know-how to pass the NCIDQ exam.
- Financial University: A membership and community of millennials gaining financial literacy through courses, resources, and support.
- Being Boss: A paid membership that elevates creative entrepreneurs through weekly prompts, monthly calls, and ongoing support.
- The GUILD: A paid membership of women entrepreneurs and leaders for connection + personal and professional development.
- ParentPreneur Foundation: Free community empowering Black parent entrepreneurs with grants, resources, webinars, and more.
- In the Cut: A community that makes the entertainment industry accessible for over 1,700 Black creatives
- Verbal to Visual: Connects and educates aspiring sketch noters.
- Boston While Black: Offers a safe space for Black students, professionals, and entrepreneurs based in Boston to come together, activate change, and build relationships
- SonoPath Education: Provides vets & technicians with resources, continuing education, and knowledge-sharing.
- eXd Community: Empowers educators to create transformative, equity-centered schools and organizations.
- Sktchy Art School: A free community for portrait artists looking to learn new skills, share their art, and get feedback on works in progress.
- The Mindful Living Collective: Hosted by psychologist and mindfulness teacher Elisha Goldstein, this community is a collaborative space for mindful living and learning.
- Teach Music Online: A community for music teachers building online businesses.
- Wanderful: a membership site connecting solo women travelers across the globe.
Ready to launch a membership website?
We’ve made it to the end of the article, but now is the most important step: actually getting started. These steps should give you a clear guide for how to create a membership website, as well as some of the pitfalls you can run into.
If you’re curious, motivated, and ready to prioritize working smarter over harder, you have something important to bring to the world right now.
We can’t wait to see what you create.