14 Questions to Answer Before Starting a Membership Site

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 08/25/11 •  8 min read

One of the more popular posts I’ve written this year has been “How to Build a Membership Site in 48 Hours“.  I went through and did a detailed overview of just about every single aspect to creating a successful membership site.

I’ve created two of these in my life: Overcoming the Fear of Uncertainty and Location Rebel.  Through the process of each, I’ve learned (and continue to learn) a lot of tips and tricks that anyone setting out to create a site like this could benefit from.

Creating a membership site isn’t for the faint hearted however.  While there are dozens of benefits and I believe anyone can do it, you have to look at your ability to follow through.  I know a lot of people that have half finished sites that they just can’t get around to finishing up and releasing.

If you’re willing to put in the time though, a membership site gives you the ability to create a unique, useful community that hopefully is profitable for you as well.

So if you’re thinking about starting a membership site, here are some of the most important things to consider before getting started.

Who is your target market? Does that market exist?

This might be the most important question you can ask yourself.  If there’s no market for your product then the rest doesn’t really matter that much does it?  Keep in mind it doesn’t have to be a big audience.  In fact, if you can create a super-niche site that solves a problem for something very specific, you’ll likely have more success than if you go too broad.

For instance, with Overcome Uncertainty I realized it was marketed too broadly (rookie mistake).  I need to rebrand it and narrow down the focus if I want to really unleash that site’s potential.

Does this site already exist?

Doesn’t matter if the answer is yes or no, you just need to be aware of the answer. If other site’s like yours do exist, then there’s probably a market for the information.  How do you differentiate?  What unique spin can you put on the site to appeal to people who may be members of those other sites?  How can you capitalize on things your competitors haven’t done well?

If a similar site or product doesn’t exist then spend more time on question #1 and make sure there’s a market.

How much time do you have to devote to the new site each week?

Membership sites take a lot more time than a simple ebook.  Not only are there way more aspects that go into development, but the management on the backend is more time consuming as well.  Between content creation, site creation, marketing, maintenance etc. you should have at least 10 hours to devote to this site each week otherwise you should consider where your priorities really lie.

Is it going to be a one time fee or recurring payment?

This is actually much more relevant than you might think, as it drives the entire content creation process.  If you’re doing a recurring fee, it’s essential you continue providing new, relevant content on an on-going basis.  If you don’t do this, you’ll see your retention rate plummet, and your profits as well.  With a one time fee, you can charge more, but you better have a killer program that’s well defined.  Updates are a big bonus, which will allow you to raise the price in the future, and keep your site relevant indefinitely.

What’s your ballpark price point?

Once you know the payment structure, decide on the price.  Why? You’re going to need to take a very different approach for a $47 site than you would for a $547 site.  The same thing goes for an $8/month program vs. a $98/month program.  There should be a dramatic quality difference in the higher priced products, and if you’re going that route you better be prepared to spend the time to create that type of product.

Have you built up enough credibility in your niche?

Sometimes it doesn’t matter if there’s a market or not – if you aren’t perceived as an authority on a subject it could be a non-starter. Ideally you should only start a membership site after you’ve spent months building your reputation on the topic at hand.  The exception here could be super-niche sites, but generally the more of an authority you are, the easier the sell.

If you havent built up much credibility yet, think about how you can go about doing that?

How is the site going to be designed/what framework are you using?

Once you’ve established that you’re going to create the site, you need to start thinking about how the site is actually going to work. My first site was built on Thesis and Wishlist Member as the membership component.  It looks good, but definitely isn’t the easiest approach if you’re lacking on some development skills.  There are all in one themes like OptimizePress (which I used for Location Rebel) which make the whole process much more manageable without a coding background.

Consider your theme/framework and membership plugin early on.  I found it easiest to build the site in the site. Being able to visualize how everything is going to works, makes things much easier than a 50,000 word Word document.

How are you planning to deliver the content inside the site?

The benefit of a membership site is you can be much more creative with content delivery.  Are you going to use video? Podcasts? Worksheets? Are you going to do a content drip where you only give members access to certain modules at a time.  All of this effects how you create the site.  If you’re site is resource heavy with lots of worksheets and tools, that may mean you need less written content.

If you plan to use lots of video then you have to decide whether or not to use a hosted service or a built in video player within your site.  If video is going to play a big role, there’s a lot of factors to consider.

Are you going to have an affiliate program?

Which service will you use? If you plan to use an affiliate program, you need to make sure you make it worth it for your affiliates. There are too many examples of bad affiliate programs, so put thought into how you can make them want to promote for you.  That said, there’s dozens of potential affiliate services.  Consider what you’re looking for, and then go seek out the best product for your needs.

Do you need a simple sales page or an elaborate lead funnel?

If you’re just using a sales page, consider writing it before you do anything else.  It will allow you to clarify your main selling points and play those up during site creation.  If you’re using a lead funnel, then you need to start building that out sooner rather than later. Luckily, this can buy you time while you finish the membership portion of the site.

How can you provide value to people that aren’t going to buy your product?

If you’re marketing this in conjunction with a blog or existing brand, you could alienate a lot of people by talking about your new venture all the time.  Generally speaking, most people aren’t going to buy or won’t be interested. By finding a way to make them interested, you can market the site more regularly without pissing people off. With Location Rebel I’ve offered a free ebook, video series, on-going case studies, and member created content -all for free to non members. Even people who don’t want to buy the product can still get value from all of this, which is fantastic!

Will there be a community inside the site? If so, what forum software will you use?

There’s a LOT of pros and cons to having your members communicate with each other, so you need to consider whether or not you want to have a forum or comments enabled in the site.  If you do, be prepared for much more management and mediation on a long term basis.  Also figure out what type of forum software you want to use.  I use Vanilla Forums, which is simple and has some cool features, but it’s limited when it comes to giving users a profile page, which would have been a fantastic addition.

What’s your launch strategy?

Just gonna throw up a sales page and see what happens? Probably not such a good idea.  Establish a list of people who you’d like to bring in to help you promote, and then go about reaching out to them for support. Don’t start planning your launch a week before it’s set to release – be considering it all along, and be continually working towards it.  Don’t save it all for the day before – you’ll have plenty of other things to be worrying about 🙂

There are plenty of other things to consider before creating a membership site, but in my experience these are some of the most important questions to consider from a market, content and technical aspect.  If you have solid responses to each of these, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be well on your way to building a successful membership site!

Do you have a membership site already? What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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10 comments on "14 Questions to Answer Before Starting a Membership Site"

  1. Adam says:

    I found this list really really helpful.

    I’m actually developing one right now using the same approach you did -Wishlist Member and OptimisePress. I’ve got a growing list (couple hundred) that are very interested and engaged (I get several emails a day interested in what I’m working on) and it’s in a cool niche that I’m pretty sure people will pay for….I’m also pretty sure what I’m developing is unique in some key ways compared with what’s already on the market.

    That said, I’m still feeling like an absolute rookie but I’m happy with how things are going right now and learning lots for when I employ membership components on my more ‘flagship’ online projects.

    Looking forward to other comments here to see what other people are up to.

  2. Caleb Wojcik says:

    As I’ve been throwing around the idea of doing this in the future this is really helpful. Thanks Sean.

  3. Doug says:

    Shit, that sounds like a lot of work.

    Maybe you should write a step-by-step guide?

  4. Jamie says:

    Hey Sean,

    Great Post… one thing can you touch on this a little more.

    “If video is going to play a big role, there’s a lot of factors to consider.”


  5. Dave Stokley says:

    Would love to see some info on the costs involved in starting a membership site.

    1. Sean says:

      Dave I’ll try and put something together soon – that said if you have any specific questions about them shoot me an email

  6. Sean

    Finally someone explaining the time costs to maintaining a membership site. I work in online education and get very frustrated with the assumption online that membership sites are passive income.

    There is nothing passive about it.

    Universities have found that to teach the same course online takes three times longer than the same course delivered in person.



    1. Sean says:

      Absolutely. Theres nothing easy about managing a membership site, and it’s extremely time consuming. That said, it can be really rewarding when done well 🙂

  7. Jeffrey says:

    I think enjoy membership sites much more than standalone courses and ebooks these days. I think there’s so much more value to a membership site, especially if there are updates after it’s released. I’m definitely going to put some thought into it and work on building a membership site of my own.

    1. Sean says:

      I agree, the ease of updating and keeping it fresh is SO nice. Not to mention it makes having multiple membership levels a possibility, which can help to increase interest that much more…

Comments are closed.