A membership-based website is a viable way to start a company by leveraging your expertise in a certain niche.
On membership-based sites, subscribers typically pay a monthly fee to access content. Starting a membership-based website is a huge undertaking—in fact, it as its own business rather than a supplement to your existing company. But it comes with the advantages of gaining recurring revenue, the opportunity to build relationships with customers, and a platform to position yourself as an industry expert business rather than a supplement to your existing company, says Jim Kukral, an author, speaker and owner of JFK Services, an Internet marketing services company in Cleveland. (See Kurkal’s small business marketing webinar that he hosted with NFIB.)
Follow Kurkal’s tips to get started:
Pick a Niche
Every small business owner is an expert, Kukral says. To determine what type of membership site you’ll run, consider your strengths and interests. A chef, for example, could create a website to teach people how to cook with organic ingredients through recipes and videos. “A lot of business owners don’t feel that what they do is valuable,” Kukral says. “The truth is that other people want to know what you know, or need that information to solve a problem.”
To start a site, you’ll need a domain name, a Web hosting provider and software that allows you to build a site. Selecting software is critical since it determines how you’ll run and structure the site. (Common options are MemberGate.com and AMember.com.) Check out the provider’s case studies, and look online for customer testimonials.
Design a Program
A program might involve video, audio, articles and webinars. With so much free content available online, you also need to provide enough value to the customer in a program. Determine the profit you want to make, and how much time you can dedicate to maintaining the site. Research pricing on other membership sites. Ask people how much they would be willing to pay for your program.
To get people to sign up, advertise on the Internet: Facebook ads allow you to target an audience based on demographics. On the website, offer free content like webinars or videos. Make sure the visitors fill out a form to provide you with their email address so you have a way to follow up.
The best way to generate revenue for a membership site is to set up a merchant account and use a credit card payment processor rather than PayPal (a popular option for many ecommerce sites), Kukral says. Customers are used to entering credit card information online, but taking them off your website to use PayPal can deter them from signing up.