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How much does it cost to start and run a membership website?

A membership site lets you build community and bring in recurring income. But how much does it cost? We break down membership site costs in this guide.

You’ve been thinking about selling memberships for a while now. You’ve narrowed in on a stellar idea, validated it with your audience, and you’re excited to hit the ground running.

All that’s left to do is build it.

But as you start to look into membership site solutions, you arrive at more questions than answers. You start thinking about data privacy, security, and every other concern that comes with settling on membership software for your site.

As a busy creator with a limited budget, there’s one particularly pressing question: How much is this whole thing going to cost you?

In this guide, we’ll run through the software and services you need to start and run a membership site, and how much each component costs. We’ll also share how the right membership site tools can make a big difference when it comes to saving time and money.

Let’s jump right in with the first membership site must-have: A content management system.

Content management system (CMS)

A content management system (CMS) refers to the software you use to build and manage your website.

There are two main types of CMS:

1. Code-based CMS: These have a bit of a learning curve (or require some HTML and CSS knowledge). That said, a code-based CMS lets you create fully customizable sites with unique features. WordPress is the most popular code-based CMS.

2. No-code CMS: As the name implies, these require no coding. They usually feature drag-and-drop editors and free theme libraries, making it quick and easy to create a website or ecommerce store. Examples include Squarespace and Wix.

Let’s walk through the features and costs of three popular CMS: WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix.

(A quick note: All of the prices listed throughout this article are accurate at the time of writing.)

WordPress

42% of the web uses WordPress, making it the most popular website builder in the world.

WordPress is a content management system (CMS) built for bloggers. That means it comes with built-in templates and tools for blogging, including:

  • Post scheduling

  • Managing comments

  • Technical SEO

(Learn more about starting a blog with WordPress.)

WordPress also offers thousands of free themes, plus a huge library of paid and free plugins for membership sites.

When it comes to building a customized membership site, WordPress has a steeper learning curve than a no-code CMS like Squarespace. There’s no drag-and-drop interface, and you’ll need some basic HTML knowledge to fully customize your site.

Don’t let that scare you away, though. Setting up a basic WordPress blog doesn’t require super high-level technical skills. And because WordPress is so widely used, there are tons of free resources out there to help you learn the ropes, like WPBeginner’s guides and tutorials.

How much does WordPress cost?

WordPress itself is free, but you still need to pay for website hosting, a custom domain name, themes, and plugins. We’ll cover those later on.

Squarespace

Squarespace is an easy-to-use website builder that requires no coding skills.

Squarespace’s drag-and-drop interface has a much gentler learning curve than WordPress. However, that simple interface comes at the cost of flexibility and customization options. Squarespace offers fewer designs, plugins, and themes than WordPress.

To build a membership site with Squarespace, you need to add a Member Area. Member Areas are a paid, members-only section of a website that let creators monetize their content and build a community.

How much does Squarespace cost?

Squarespace offers four different pricing plans. Pricing ranges from $16 to $54 per month paid monthly, or $12 to $40 per month paid annually.

Memberships aren’t included in your regular Squarespace subscription. Member Area plans range from $9/month with a 7% transaction fee for one Member Area to $35/month with a 1% transaction fee for up to 10 Member Areas.

Wix

Wix is a no-code CMS with an intuitive drag-and-drop editor. It’s easy to use and offers hundreds of free themes.

When it comes to membership websites, Wix lags behind Squarespace and WordPress. Users can offer memberships and packages through Wix’s scheduling software add-on, which allows them to offer subscriptions, accept recurring payments, and sell members-only content.

However, setting up a membership on Wix can be clunky, and the user experience for creators and members alike leaves a lot to be desired.

How much does Wix cost?

To collect recurring payments, Wix requires a Business Limited ($27/month) or Business VIP ($49/month) plan.

So, which is the best CMS for building a membership site?

It depends on your budget, goals, and comfort with coding. But there’s a reason that WordPress is the most popular CMS. While the learning curve for WordPress can be steep, the possibilities for customizing your website are nearly endless.

For the rest of this article, we’ll base the costs, tools, and requirements on using WordPress for your membership site.

Total cost: Free to $54/month.

Domain name & website hosting

Before you can get a WordPress site up and running, you need two things:

  1. A domain name

  2. A web hosting plan

(Don’t have a domain name picked out yet? Check out this guide to choosing the right domain name.)

Make sure you purchase your domain name from an accredited domain name registrar. Here are a few options:

1. Bluehost: One of the largest web hosting companies in the world, Bluehost offers free domain registration for the first year on every hosting plan.

2. Domain.com: This is a good option if you’re looking to purchase a domain name only without website hosting services.

3. GoDaddy: GoDaddy is one of the oldest and most popular domain name registrars. You can choose from a wide variety of popular domain names and TLDs.

4. HostGator: HostGator offers a domain name search, domain management, and shared website hosting.

Domain name prices vary depending on factors like whether it was owned previously (i.e., you’re buying it off someone) and what top-level domain (TLD) it has.

Your top-level domain (TLD) is the end of your URL, like .com, .org, .net, or .biz.

You’ll also see TLDs associated with specific countries, like .uk (United Kingdom) or .dk (Denmark). These are country code top-level domains or ccTLDs.

If you can, choose .com as your TLD.

Here’s why:

It may be more expensive than a less popular TLD, but .com is one of the most authoritative and least spammy domain name extensions. Using .com makes your website look more legitimate to both your customers and search engines.

People — especially in the U.S. — are more familiar with .com domain names than any others, and they’ll probably automatically type .com into their address bar after your website name.

An open .com domain from a registrar costs around $10–20 for the first year, after which prices usually increase.

Once you have a domain name, your website needs a place to live. That’s where your website host comes into play. But take heed: Many website hosts offer rock-bottom prices upfront, then significantly raise them in the second year.

There are two kinds of WordPress website hosting: Shared hosting and managed hosting.

Many domain name registrars also offer shared website hosting.

A hosting account with Bluehost shared hosting starts at $2.75/month and includes a free domain name. SiteGround hosts more than two million domains, and shared hosting starts at $4.99/mo, discounted from $14.99/mo.

Shared hosting is less expensive than managed hosting — but you get what you pay for. These hosts often overcrowd servers, meaning your website might be on the same server as 500+ other sites. This can lead to slowdowns, performance issues, and even crashes.

Managed hosting for WordPress sites is often built and supported by dedicated WordPress experts to ensure that your site runs as quickly and securely as possible.

For example, WordPress websites don’t automatically have SSL encryption. SSL is a must-have for ecommerce sites to keep customers’ information secure. Most managed hosting services offer free SSL certificates.

​Plus, managed hosting handles many of the technical headaches of running a WordPress site, from handling caching to maintaining site uptime and load speed during traffic spikes.

Managed hosting costs more than shared hosting, but the perks and customer support are well worth it. Plans from industry leader Kinsta start at $30/month.

Total costs:

Domain name: $10–20 for the first year.

Website hosting: $2.75 to $30/month.

Membership site plugins

With WordPress, a domain name, and website hosting, you have the bare bones of a website. But to add membership site features and functionality, you need at least one WordPress plugin.

One of the most popular ways to sell anything on WordPress is the WooCommerce plugin.

With over five million active installations, WooCommerce is the world’s most popular open-source ecommerce checkout.

WooCommerce and WordPress are both free, but if you want to sell memberships, you need a separate membership plugin, WooCommerce Memberships.

WooCommerce Memberships lets you create invite-only members areas with exclusive content, offer multiple subscription tiers, and drip content to members over time. The plugin will run you $199/year.

​​Plus, if you want to create and sell online courses for your members, WooCommerce recommends using WooCommerce Paid Courses, which costs $129 annually.

That’s on top of all of the other costs of online course development — and why we don’t recommend using WordPress to sell online courses.

MemberPress is another premium membership plugin for WordPress.

MemberPress’s membership management software allows you to sell unlimited memberships from your WordPress site with no extra transaction fees.

You get full control over your membership site with the flexibility to choose your own payment processor, integrations, and WordPress plugins.

At the time of writing, MemberPress plans are on sale. They typically cost $279–599/year, depending on the plan.

Total cost: $129 to $599/year.

Website design and development

Once you’ve chosen a hosting provider and membership site plugin, you’re ready to set up your membership in WordPress.

This means installing WordPress on your site, choosing and setting up any additional plugins, and finding and installing the perfect theme.

These are excellent tasks to outsource to a freelancer if you have the budget. Outsourcing to an experienced web developer can help you create a website that loads quickly, works well, and fits your brand.

That last piece is essential, especially when you’re growing a new business. Consistent branding across all your channels boosts your brand visibility by up to 4x — that’s why it’s one of our top branding tips for entrepreneurs.

So, where can you find and hire a freelancer to make your membership website shine?

Some of the top sites to find a web developer include:

WordPress has a library of over 4000 themes, but not every theme is built to work with a membership site. A web designer can code a unique membership theme with custom features for your website.

However, outsourcing the design and installation of a custom WordPress theme can be cost-prohibitive. Costs depend on the features you want to add and the developer’s expertise, but they can range from $1500 to $6000.

If you don’t have the budget for a custom design, there are plenty of premade WordPress membership themes available. They can range from $40 to nearly $400 and come with various levels of customization and support.

Total cost: From $44 for a premade theme to $6000+ for a custom-designed and built WordPress site.

Marketing tools and other add-ons

OK, you have all of the tools you need to build your membership site. But you’re still missing the most important piece of all: your members.

To get your membership in front of potential customers, you need a marketing plan.

One of our favorite marketing tools for creators on a budget is email marketing. Email marketing has an ROI of around $40 for every $1 spent and drives 174% more conversions than social media.

MailChimp’s WordPress plugin makes it easy to embed newsletter signup forms on your WordPress site so you can build your email list, then send out beautiful email campaigns to current and potential members alike.

MailChimp offers a free plan for growing businesses with up to 2000 contacts. Paid plans range from $10/month for Essentials to $299/month for a Premium plan.

Drip is another marketing automation tool with a WordPress plugin. Their email marketing platform makes spreading the word about your membership site a breeze. Plans start at $19/month for basic features and up to 500 subscribers.

Total cost: Free to $299/month for email marketing.

Social media is another powerful way to get the word out about your membership. In fact, one survey found that small business marketers ranked social media marketing as the best strategy for building brand awareness and gaining new customers.

Social media management tools don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

Take Buffer, for example. Buffer lets you schedule posts ahead of time, so you don’t have to stay on top of your publishing schedule every day.

You can reply to and analyze social media posts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Buffer also offers analytics features that measure your performance across social media.

With the free version of Buffer, you can add up to three social media profiles and schedule up to ten posts in advance. Paid plans start at $15/month.

For more tools to grow your membership site without breaking the bank, check out these 12 free tools for creators and 11 free SEO tools for infopreneurs.

Now that you know all of the pieces that go into building a membership site on WordPress, let’s add it all up — and see if there’s a better option. (Spoiler alert: There is.)

How much does a membership website cost?

Here are all of the expenses we’ve talked about so far:

  • CMS: Free to $54/month ($648/year).

  • Domain name: $10 to $20 for the first year.

  • Website hosting: $2.75 to $30/month ($33 to $360/year).

  • Membership site plugins: $199 to $599/year.

  • WordPress themes: $44 to $6000+.

  • Email marketing services: Free to $299/month ($3588/year).

These costs vary so widely that it’s hard to come up with a total. As a ballpark, the annual costs of running a membership site with WordPress can range anywhere from $242 to over $5000. (That’s not including one-off expenses like a premade or custom theme.)

Hosting a membership site on WordPress can cost you valuable time and money beyond setup and hosting expenses, too.

If you have too many plugins or issues with your hosting provider, your membership site and content might go down entirely. You could end up with a bad customer experience, unhappy members, and lost revenue.

One in three customers will leave a brand they love after just one bad experience, and 92% will completely abandon it after two or three negative interactions.

What’s the alternative?

An all-in-one membership platform like Podia.

Podia gives you access to all of the tools you need to build, manage, and market your membership site. You get the power of 5+ tools for the price of one. All plans come with a free 14-day trial, no credit card required.

Podia’s page builder lets you create a beautiful website to sell memberships without ever having to enter a line of code, troubleshoot a finicky WordPress theme, or install a confusing plugin.

Just take a look at the membership website Mallika Malhotra, brand expert and photographer, built with Podia’s site editor:

Mallika customized her website to fit her brand and style without buying a WordPress theme or hiring a web designer to build it from scratch.

Podia also lets you:

  • Build, market, and sell memberships, online courses, and digital downloads from one dashboard.

  • Sell as many membership tiers as you want, each with different perks, content, and prices.

  • Easily accept credit card payments with Stripe and PayPal.

  • Create and manage a custom membership site without needing any code or hiring a developer.

  • Connect with your members directly through email marketing and live chat messaging.

  • A whole lot more…

Instead of juggling pricey tools that don’t play nicely together, you can do it all from one platform, starting at just $390/year. See how it works in our free weekly demo.

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Building a membership site doesn’t have to be complicated

Navigating the costs of building a membership site can feel like an unsolvable maze. At a minimum, you’re going to need to budget for:

  • A content management system to build and manage your website

  • A domain name that fits your brand

  • A website hosting package that can handle the technical burden of a membership site

  • Plugins that add membership functionality to your site

  • A membership site theme or design

  • Marketing services to spread the word about your membership

Phew. That’s a lot to wrap your head around, and prices vary so much that it’s hard to calculate an accurate budget.

It doesn’t have to be so complex. With Podia, you get all of the tools you need to create, run, and sell your membership site — all for one monthly or yearly fee. If you’re ready to get started, we’re here to help.

A portrait of Rachel Burns

About the author

Rachel is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and membership websites – alongside their creators – thrive. When she’s not writing, you can find her rescuing dogs, baking something, or extolling the virtue of the Oxford comma.