Right now, creators around the globe are thinking about how they can bring together a group of people around a common goal or interest. And one of the best ways to do that is to create a membership site.
In the past, membership websites were looked at as a fringe business, but now they are booming. In our current moment, many people are looking for ways to connect with other people who have shared interests and aspirations.
In this article, we’ll show you a different approach to thinking about how to build a community site. So what are we waiting for? Let’s dive in!
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In this article...
What is a membership website?
A membership website delivers value to community members over an extended period of time while creating engagement between Hosts and members. 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.
Reasons you should create a membership website
- You want to build long-term connections
- You have a clear Ideal Member
- You have a shared Big Purpose
- You want recurring revenue
- You’re in it for the long-haul
- The transformation or journey you’re selling takes a long time
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
If you’re thinking about how to create a membership website, then choosing a topic for people to rally behind is your first big step.
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! On Mighty Networks, 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
Start with 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.
What makes you unique? What challenges have you solved? What parts of your identity or background give you a unique take on an old challenge?
By the way, you may be wondering if you can create a membership site if you are not an expert in your chosen topic.
The answer? Absolutely.
Your value as the creator of a membership site isn’t in your expertise or the expectation that you’re going to have the answers. It’s in your enthusiasm to set up the structure for you and your members to master something essential to you and them together.
Many of our 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.
Here’s how it happens: Because people are passionate about a topic, they see clearly how it applies not just to, say, mobile app software product managers but to all technology company employees. And if that’s the case, then really, doesn’t it apply to all professionals inside and outside technology companies around the world? So, they aim wide and try to serve everyone – and in doing so, serve 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:
We also have a free training on developing your Big Purpose Statement in our Mighty Community.
Step 4: Choose your membership website platform
Okay, now comes the part everyone gets stuck at. Where the heck are you supposed to host this thing?
You’ve probably Googled stuff like “Best membership site platforms,” and you’re bombarded with options.
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.
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.
Don’t forget that a community platform like Mighty Networks gives you a lot of 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.
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.
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! A welcome event is a great 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 4 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 4 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.
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.
36 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.
- Leave Your Mark: A membership community hosted by Aliza Licht that teaches young people to crush their career goals.
- 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.
- The Circle by Black Girl in Om: A paid membership website for Black women and women of color seeking to grow in radical love, gratitude, and embodied liberation.
- 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.
- Goddess Council: A membership that promotes social wellness for women with intimate, soul-centered virtual gatherings.
- 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.
- Liberated Being: A paid somatic meditation and movement community connecting members with guided meditations, guest teachers, and more.
- 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.
- Mind Cake Vault: Offers support, guidance, and resources for aspiring cake pop business owners.
- 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.