You write a popular blog, sell a service or perhaps a digital product, and spend a lot of time actively marketing your small business. The trouble is, you spend all your time chasing down new customers instead of building long-term relationships with your current clients. Membership site software offers a great way to stay in touch with your customers while adding a new stream of recurring income to your bank account.
What is a Membership Site?
A membership site is simply a website that requires a user to pay a fee for access. It might be a private forum, a class presented in the form of teleseminars or downloadable videos, a job board, or it may contain a combination of elements structured for a specific audience. Membership sites may require a user to pay a fee each month or year, or they may offer access for a one-time payment. In fact, some membership sites require no payment at all and instead rely on back-end sales to make a profit.
Decisions to Make Before Choosing Membership Site Software
In order to incorporate a membership site into your business model, you need to first make some decisions about the format and structure of your site. Things like payment options, content restriction, free versus paid members, and file formats and bandwidth restrictions all need to be considered.
Start by taking a look at your current business. You’ll want to make sure the software you choose will work with the current tools you use and like. Watch for integration with payment processors, affiliate management tools, content management or blogging software, forums, and email management systems. Ideally, you want to choose a software that contains all the features you need, without having to purchase add-ons or other software, because if you run into trouble, it can be hard to isolate the problem (and get help from the programmers) when multiple systems are involved.
Another thing to consider is levels of membership. Some sites offer a “sneak peak” at the content for free members, with paid members having full access. Others have multiple levels of membership where users at higher levels have access to more advanced materials. Some membership scripts provide for unlimited levels, while others only allow for a fixed number. Still others require that the lowest level be free.
Features and benefits are a great starting point when you’re comparing products, but when it comes to membership site software, an even more important consideration is product history and customer support. The last thing you want to have happen is for your paying customers to run into a problem and you find your support team is MIA. Make sure you choose software that is mature – meaning it’s been out of beta for a while and has plenty of users. Also, look for lots of contact points for the developers. At the very least they should have a support portal where you can submit a trouble ticket. A blog and user forum are also important, as you can often find help for common issues through a simple search of past content.
Be sure you read the license carefully as well. Some software vendors offer a lifetime license for the product, but free support is limited. Some require an annual renewal in order for your software to keep working. Some only require additional payments for upgrades. Chances are you’ll want to keep your software up to date, so if the script you choose requires an upgrade fee, you’ll want to include that in your site’s budget. Membership scripts are available in every price category from free to thousands of dollars (for custom solutions), but you most likely should plan on spending around $200 for a single-site license with one year of upgrades and support.
If you’re looking for an innovative addition to your income stream, consider starting a membership site. Software is readily available to suit nearly every business need, from a simple ecourse to an interactive learning environment that includes video, audio, and even private forums.
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