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What is a membership, anyway?

In the first chapter of this guide on how to create a membership website, we’ll take a look at exactly what a membership website is and who can benefit from creating one. Whether you create content as a blogger, sell services as a freelancer, or offer one-off products as a product company, a membership site can be a lucrative addition to your revenue streams.

A membership is a subscription-based product that lets you charge your audience a monthly or annual fee in exchange for access to your membership site.

There are many different types of content, products, or services you can offer on that private site (more on that later), but the key is that the site is “gated” and only available to members.

Some memberships include additional components like webinars, private Facebook groups or Slack channels, and offline events.

You could also offer a membership subscription for free, in which case it’s like having an email list on steroids, as the features of most membership platforms (like  Podia ) — including comments, “likes” and the ability to easily browse past updates — make it far more interactive and intimate than a traditional newsletter list.

What are the benefits of memberships?

Of course, there are lots of ways to build an online business, from  online courses  to selling  digital downloads , and plenty more.

But memberships have some unique benefits over other product types:

  • Paid memberships offer predictable, recurring revenue to creators, unlike other products which often have fluctuating sales month-to-month.

  • Free memberships give you an effective lead generation platform that’s more intimate and interactive than an email list.

  • Build a long-term relationship with your audience by publishing content regularly, rather than the “one-and-done” relationship of many non-recurring product sales.

  • Memberships don’t require such rich, long-form content as courses do, so creators enjoy a rapid production loop that lets you get content from idea to “published” quickly. Plus, get quick feedback from your members. No need to spend six months with your head down working on your next project.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to choose one type of product for your business.

Memberships, courses, and downloads can be — and often are — complementary parts of a successful creator’s product mix.

As Travis Northcutt of  MemberUp  explains, memberships offer multiple benefits to creators:

Travis Northcutt

From a business perspective, the biggest benefit is the potential for steady monthly revenue, plus ongoing opportunities for upselling your customers in the future. You’re also likely to generate additional product/course/membership ideas, since you’ll likely be interacting with your members a lot more than if they made a one-off purchase.

From a satisfaction standpoint, many people who run membership sites with communities (forums, Slack or Facebook groups, etc.) find doing so very fulfilling, and often build close relationships they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Who should consider selling memberships?

If you're still struggling to decide, see our guide on  whether you should create an online course or a membership site .

Otherwise, below are a few of the scenarios where a membership might be a great tool for you:

Who benefits from memberships?

If you’re a…Then a membership can help you…

Content creator (blogger, vlogger, podcaster, etc…)

Sell content directly to your audience without relying on ads, sponsors, or affiliate partnerships. Cut out the middleman and build a deeper relationship with your tribe!

Service provider (consultant, freelancer, or coach)

Add an additional revenue stream to your business by offering exclusive tips and advice for a subscription fee. It’s the perfect upsell opportunity to clients whose contracts are ending, or downsell for prospects who can’t afford or aren’t quite ready to pay for your full hands-on services.

Product company (software, eCommerce, or brick-and-mortar)

Build a free “fan club” that offers your customers a unique behind-the-scenes look at the company behind the products they love. Increasingly, people crave a personal connection to the companies they buy from, and a membership is an extraordinarily powerful way to build that relationship.

Next chapter

Choosing a membership model: 8 examples that work

Creating a membership website allows you to solve your customers’ problems over the long-term, but it requires some planning. In the second chapter of this guide, we’ll look at 8 of the most popular membership site models alongside some real-world examples of the best memberships the web has to offer.

Start reading →