How to Build a Membership Site: Membership Sites 101

Updated on July 5th, 2018
programmer website

If you want to build an online business around your personal brand, one of the best strategies is opening a membership site. A membership site allows you to share exclusive content with paying members around the world. Setting up a membership site isn’t rocket science. You just need a few core tools, and you’ll be up and running in only a few minutes. Follow along with this guide to get started building your membership site.

Domain name and web hosting

Your first step is to register a domain name and web hosting. I’m a big fan of GoDaddy or Google Domains and Siteground for hosting, but there are many hosts and domain name registrars to choose from. What is important is that you own your own .com domain name and your own hosting account where you control your website and web hosting entirely.

Getting a domain name that ends in .blogspot.com or .wordpress.com is unprofessional and harms your brand. Further, those services essentially control your content. When you self-host, you control everything and can keep backups of your files just in case something goes wrong.

WordPress and a theme

Once you have your little corner of the internet carved out, it’s time to start filling it with your fantastic content. The first step is to install a content management system (CMS) on your hosting account. The biggest and best for most purposes is WordPress. WordPress is a free content management system that powers over 25 percent of all sites on the web. It is huge, has excellent support, and a massive number of themes and plugins to customize to your heart’s desire.

You can get WordPress for free at WordPress.org, but most likely you will install it in one or two clicks from your hosting control panel. If you follow these steps, you can have your site up in five minutes or less. I put together the short video below showing just how easy it is to get started.

After WordPress is up and running, you can log in to the dashboard to pick a free theme or look to a marketplace or premium theme service to buy a higher end theme for your site. Generally, premium themes are better than free ones, but what you ultimately use is up to you.

Membership site plugins

Now you have a website with your own .com domain that people can visit, but there isn’t much to do there yet. But before you rush and start adding content, you’ll want to install a membership plugin. Membership plugins are an add-on to your WordPress site that allow you to control access to pages and charge people for visiting certain parts of your site. While that sounds complex, it is straightforward in practice.

There are a few membership plugins to choose from. Here are a few of the most popular options:

  • Paid Membership Pro – This freemium plugin has it all and integrates with multiple payment gateways and email services.
  • MemberPress – This one includes easy setup, content access controls, content dripping, and works with multiple emails services and payment gateways.
  • LearnDash – This one is easy to setup and offers advanced features for courses in addition to content drips and community features.

You can host a membership site on a 3rd party platform, but again you put a lot of trust in someone else’s hands to manage a core part of your online business. When you self-host it with WordPress, you always own your site and control its contents.

Payment gateway

Next, you need a way to accept customer payments. Assuming you already have a dedicated business bank account, you’ll want to sign up for a payment processing service. Most WordPress membership plugins support Stripe and PayPal among other payment providers.

Stripe is an excellent option for taking credit and debit cards securely on your site without a ton of technical skills and knowledge. PayPal is great due to its trust and name recognition, though the checkout process can be a bit more cumbersome than with Stripe.

Your content

Finally, you need to build out the content for your site! This means free content to entice people to buy and paid content behind your membership paywall. You are the expert people wnat to access, so you get to choose how your content strategy comes together.

For the best success online today, consider a combination of written blog posts, videos, and even an audio podcast. Connect those to your social media accounts for promotion, and your business and its sales are underway!

Build your way to success online

The internet opens up opportunities for so many new and unique business models. The membership site model is growing in popularity for good reason. With little cost, you can create something valuable that turns into a profitable business. What are you waiting for? It just takes five minutes to get started.

Eric Rosenberg

Eric Rosenberg

Eric Rosenberg is a personal finance expert. He received an MBA in Finance from the University of Denver in 2010. Since graduating he has been blogging about financial tips and tricks to help people understand money better. He is a debt master, insurance expert and currently writes for most of the top financial publications on the planet.

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