You’ve done digital downloads and online courses before, and now it’s time to finally release what you’ve been dreaming of for so long: A membership site.
You don’t have the tech skills to set one up on your own or the time to learn about all of the plugins and coding you’d need to do it.
All you need is a site that’s safe and intuitive for both you and your members to use.
So, what should you do?
When it comes to creating a membership site without technical skills, your options boil down to hosting the membership either on your website or on a third-party platform.
Today, we’ll explore creating a membership site without technical skills step-by-step, but first, let’s compare hosting a membership site on your own website versus a separate platform.
Where should I host my membership site, and why?
Choosing a membership platform -- whether that’s on your existing website or a separate platform -- is rarely a clear-cut decision.
To create an amazing membership site, however, you should make sure that whatever platform you choose:
- Offers all-in-one features so that you don’t have to worry about coding, plugins, or other technical concerns
- Aligns with your budget and customer support needs
- Allows several membership models, like the content library, group coaching, or community model
- Enables you to host content besides memberships, such as online courses and digital downloads
- Pays you as soon as a customer makes a purchase and doesn’t take additional transaction fees from your earnings
Now the question remains: Hosting on your website versus a third-party platform? Let’s compare!
Hosting a membership on your own website
On the one hand, membership programs hosted on your own website don’t require you to pay for two separate services or give out two different domain names to your audience.
But on the other hand, membership sites hosted on your own website can require more technical savvy and money than you might think. Consider WordPress, a content management system (CMS), which powers almost 34% of websites and is among the most popular options for membership sites.
Despite their popularity, WordPress memberships still run into problems like having uncacheable content and high data storage that can affect your site’s performance.
Then there are the plugins.
There are over 50,000 WordPress plugins to customize and optimize your website.
With that many plugins to sort through, you could easily spend weeks curating the perfect assortment of plugins, only to find a game-changing solution at the eleventh hour.
WordPress plugins are far from the only headache on the line, by the way. No matter what CMS you choose for a membership website, you can anticipate needing to build out your site to make it work the way you want.
If you have a Weebly website, for instance, you’ll need to purchase the Paid Members app to build your membership website on top of the monthly or annual fee you’re already paying to Weebly.
Want to sell online courses and memberships on Weebly? That requires another app, too.
That’s the norm with whatever website builder you use, unfortunately.
So, hosting a membership on your website can give you limitless options for customization and optimization -- but that comes at the expense of dealing heavily with the technical side of things, from picking plugins to finding complementary apps to run your business.
If all of the additional fees and plugins aren’t your cup(s) of tea, a third-party platform may work better for you.
Hosting a membership site on a third-party platform
The most obvious benefit of running your membership site outside of your website is that it takes a lot of the technical concerns off of your shoulders without sacrificing functionality.
Take creator Paul Knight as an example.
Paul transitioned to a storefront model after previously using multiple tools to operate his business.
According to Paul, he “needed a solution that allowed me more time to concentrate on creating awesome courses, digital downloads and membership platforms for my members, and less time spent on the techie side of trying to put it all together.”
Still, even though creators like Paul have found success using third-party platforms, that doesn’t mean they’re the best fit for everyone.
For example, membership platforms like Memberful charge transaction fees on top of payment processing fees and your monthly subscription fee -- and that’s before you have to pay out money for taxes and expenses.
Similarly, some creators may be disappointed to find many third-party platforms don’t allow for as much customization as a WordPress site would.
Unfortunately, even if you find a membership site that charges no or minimal transaction fees and is as customizable as you need, there’s still a good chance you won’t be able to host all of your digital offerings there.
In other words, you’ll have to pay out for yet another site to host your other online content and offerings.
As you can see, choosing between hosting a membership site on your own or using a third-party platform isn’t always straightforward, though when you consider the technical issues -- which we’ll cover in just a second -- it can get notably clearer which will work best for you.
What are some common technical issues for membership sites?
While membership sites are an excellent source of passive recurring income, they still require some ongoing maintenance, so it’s important to pick a membership site that makes things as easy for you as possible.
There are hundreds of minor issues membership sites can run into, but the three major problems we’ll cover today include:
- Slow site speeds
- Downed sites
First up is plugins.
Put plainly, a plugin is an additional piece of software you add to your website to customize it.
While plugins can be integral in making your website the best it can be, plugins are not perfect.
Let’s consider WordPress.
WordPress, at the time of this writing, has 55,025 plugins.
That’s a lot to pick from, especially if you’re a newer creator with a limited budget and little technical background.
And regrettably, once you do find the right plugins for your membership site, you can’t just set-and-forget them.
You have to stay on top of plugins and keep them up-to-date to keep your site secure and ensure all of the moving parts (still) work together.
Only using the most popular or highly-rated plugins won’t spare you from needing to mind this, as 329 of the 1,386 most popular plugins hadn’t been updated in more than one year according to one study.
In other words, almost 23% of the hottest plugins on the market are out-of-date and could expose your customers -- and yourself -- to risk.
Plugin maintenance isn’t the only concern, either. Legitimacy can be another major issue.
Malware isn’t just a pain to remove from your computer. It can also potentially disrupt your business by taking your website offline, exposing sensitive information, and opening you up to lawsuits if the damages are severe enough.
Right about now, you might be thinking infected plugins are only serious issues for larger companies, but that’s just not the case. They can be even more detrimental for smaller creators who don’t have the time or money to deal with its many consequences.
Speaking of consequences, not keeping an eye on your membership site speed is another pitfall to avoid.
Slow site speeds
Here’s the thing about site speed -- if it’s not the fastest that it can be, your traffic bleeds out.
In fact, the probability of a visitor bouncing increases by 32% when the page load time goes from one to three seconds, and up to 90% when the load time goes from one to five seconds.
While site speed can be affected by many things, certain plugins and plugin combinations can slow down your site and, in turn, affect traffic.
So to make sure your traffic sticks around longer, it’s essential your site loads as quickly as possible, which means deleting, reactivating, and replacing the plugins slowing down your site.
Finally, once you have your site speed up and ready, there’s still one more major concern for membership sites, and it’s the widowmaker -- dealing with downtime.
A downed site is simply a website that isn’t accessible to the general public.
And while downed sites are practically unavoidable, they can be a much bigger burden than you think if you’re hosting your own website.
Firstly, downed sites can hurt your revenue -- if your website isn’t available, your customers can’t purchase products or access your membership site.
But, they aren’t only an inconvenience for your customers. They can do a lot of damage to you, as well. One hour of downtime can cost over $100,000 for a company with over 1,000 employees.
As an example, Amazon’s cloud storage system suffered a glitch in 2017 for several hours and cost companies an estimated $150 million.
Make no mistake: While the costs from a downed site may not be as high for smaller creators, it can still be detrimental, especially if it happens during a peak sales period for your brand.
But perhaps the most frustrating thing about downed websites is that unless you’re using a third-party platform to host your membership site, it’s your responsibility to get it back up and running, come high tech or water.
Membership sites can suffer from many of the same problems as a regular website, from issues with plugins to slowed or inaccessible sites. That’s an awful lot to deal with on top of everything else you need to do to run your business.
If, at this point, you’re certain that hosting a membership site on your website isn’t for you, then we have a much simpler alternative to tell you about.
Spoiler: It requires practically no technical background at all.
What’s the easiest way to build and launch my membership site?
One of the easiest ways to set up and run a membership site is by using a platform like Podia that offers everything you need out of the box.
In fact, you can launch your membership site in five simple steps. Let me show you.
Step #1: Set up your Podia account and activate memberships
After signing up with Podia but before creating your membership, you’ll want to make sure that your storefront is completely set up beforehand.
To do that, go to the upper-lefthand corner and click “settings.”
Once you’re on the settings page, some of the fields you may want to fill out include:
- Mailing address (so that you can email your subscribers)
- Storefront name
- Storefront URL or your custom domain
- Your payment preferences
After that, make sure to connect your Stripe account to Podia so you can accept membership payments.
New to Stripe? Feel free to check out our guide for setting up a Stripe account.
Next, the fun begins -- bringing your membership to life.
Step #2: Name your membership
After you’ve connected Stripe, go back to your dashboard and select “memberships”.
Once you’re on the “memberships” page, click “plans”.
Scroll to the bottom of the page and select the “add new plan” button, give it a name, and you’re done.
Now, you just need to figure out your pricing.
Step #3: Determine your membership prices
If you plan on charging for your membership, click the “require payment for this plan” toggle button so that it turns from gray to purple.
Otherwise, your membership will be set as free at default.
Next, decide how you’ll charge your subscribers -- with a monthly fee, annual fee, or both.
Whatever you choose, click the purple toggle buttons beside each option before entering a number.
Once you’ve figured out your pricing, the next thing to take care of is your content.
Step #4: Select the products to include in your membership
If you’re following along and are still on the “plans” page, scroll down until you see your current product offerings.
To select a product, simply click the checkmark beside each product, and it will turn from white to green.
There’s no limit to how many products you can add to your membership, and you can include both online courses and digital downloads as part of your membership plan.
Don’t have a product set up yet? Check out our guide to creating your first products.
Otherwise, proceed to the next -- and last major -- step.
Step #5: Publish your plan
Once you’re ready to publish your plan, scroll to the bottom and click the purple “publish your plan” button.
Before publishing, you’ll see this pop-up box notifying you that you can’t change your membership prices once they’ve been published.
After you’ve clicked “publish plan,” your membership is live!
You can go back to the “memberships” page to edit your plans and products as needed.
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