Should You Start a Membership Site in 2021? Answer These 5 Questions

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 11/27/18 •  9 min read

When it comes to online businesses, I’ve dabbled in nearly everything in one way or another.

I’ve been blogging for over a decade!

I’ve created niche sites.

I’ve done affiliate marketing.

I’ve done freelancing.

I’ve worked on e-commerce stores.

And I’ve helped others create each of these types of businesses as well.

But there’s one type of business that has been a better fit for me personally than anything else.

What is it?

Membership sites.

And while it’s been great for me, building a membership site may or may not be the best fit for you as you figure out how to start, or grow an online business moving into 2021.

In this post, I’m going to share with you, why the membership model has worked well for me, and also some questions you should have solid answers to before you consider starting a membership site of your own.

Who Should Start a Membership Site?

A membership site can be a wonderful way to share your expertise, cultivate a community, and to create a nice income for yourself.

In my experience there are two instances where membership sites are a good fit:

  1. If you have in depth knowledge you want to teach on a subject
  2. You’re in a position to cultivate a niche community of people

At the moment I have two membership sites and each one fits into one of these categories.

Let me explain

Location Rebel Academy

Inside our premium course Location Rebel Academy, we teach everyday people with little experience online, how to create an online business.

The model works well, because we have a lot of information, and having a membership site allows us to easily take a lot of information, and put it into a program that is easy to follow along with.

With this model, you can charge a one time or a monthly fee, but we’ve chosen to go with the one time fee to take the stress of a recurring payment out of the business creation process – which can be stressful enough on its own.

The Eighty Club

My other site is completely different than Location Rebel.

It’s an online forum for members of private golf courses around the world. They pay an annual recurring membership fee for access to our network of members, our events, and our online forum which is one of the most robust private forums for golf course travel and architecture out there.

LRA has a very strong community as well, so it fits both of the categories above for starting a site. The Eighty Club, really only fits #2, but as long as you have something to teach, or a community to build – this type of business can be a really good fit.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start a Membership Site

This isn’t something that just happens overnight.

You can’t just set up an online forum, throw up a sales page, and expect dozens of people to start throwing cash at you – as nice as that would be.

To help you figure out if this type of business is right for you, you should have solid answers to these 5 questions before you get going.

1) Do I have an existing audience that needs this? If not, what is my plan for building this audience?

In the cases of both my membership sites, I didn’t build that part of the business until after I’d built the blog.

Location Rebel Academy launched over two years after I’d started this website. At that point, I’d proved I knew what I was doing, and I had a large enough audience to make it worthwhile.

With The Eighty Club, I didn’t start it until nearly five years after creating the blog. But what that allowed me to do was build enough of a reputation, and network to create a site that caters to private golf club members.

So in your case, do you have your audience yet? If not, you might consider building that first so that when you do launch your membership site you can do so with positive momentum.

Here’s our guide on how to set up a blog.

2) Who specifically am I serving with this site? 

Most people aren’t very good at niching down.

You might say, “I’m serving people who want to be entrepreneurs” or “I’m serving golfers”.

Neither of those is specific enough to truly get someone to resonate.

In the case of The Eighty Club, it’s for “Members of architecturally significant, private golf clubs that like to travel, host people on their home courses, and geek out about golf on the internet.”

That is a very specific person.

On the surface, it might seem too narrow. But what happens is the people who do fit this mold (which may be literally 1% of my Breaking Eighty audience), find it to be such a perfect fit, that getting them to join is really easy.

So in your case, answer the question “who is my site serving.”

And then get even more specific.

And then get even more specific than that. And that’s where you’re likely to find your target audience.

Check out our video on defining your “niche within a niche”:

3) Do I have the knowledge or the network to be the person who builds this site?

A great idea doesn’t mean much if you don’t have the skills or the background to be the one to actually create it.

I’d never have been able to make The Eighty Club work if I hadn’t traveled the world meeting private golf club members in my quest to play the world’s top 100 courses.

I’d never have been able to start Location Rebel if I hadn’t quit my job and spent years experimenting with building different types of lifestyle businesses.

It’s that background and those skills you learn that put you in the position to be able to create a membership site.

So be honest with yourself. Are you truly in a position to be successful in building this type of business? And if you’re not, then is there someone who is that you could potentially partner with?

4) Are there other sites like mine? If yes, how can I differentiate? If no, why is that?

There’s an old concept that all of the good ideas out there have already been done, anything new is just a new version of something existing.

While I don’t completely agree with that, whoever said it has a point.

And the message to you is if you have an idea for a ground breaking new site, but it’s never been done before, there might be a reason for it.

For instance, there were only a couple of other similar Clubs to The Eighty Club out there. One has a five figure initiation fee, and neither of them has a focus on an online forum.

So by making the price point more affordable, and adding an easier way for members to communicate, I was able to create something new that fulfilled a need.

When I started Location Rebel Academy in 2011, there really wasn’t much out there like it.

Now there are hundreds if not thousands of online courses teaching you how to build an online business. But part of what sets us apart is:

Some of these unique components separate us from many of the new sites popping up that simply don’t have the level of credibility or success stories we do.

In your case, if there are people doing what you want to do, how can you differentiate? And if there’s not, ask yourself if there’s a reason for that, and if creating something completely new is realistic and feasible given where you’re currently at.

5) Is This Your Best Opportunity Right Now?

It can take months if not years to build a successful membership site. You need to grow your audience, brand, create the site, etc.

It’s a lot of work, that can pay off over the long term, but can also be a daunting process.

If you’re in a day job you hate and are desperately searching for a way out, then you may be better off choosing a different type of online business that can lead to significant income more quickly.

But if you’re willing to put in the work and play the long game with your business, then this can be one of the most rewarding, and enjoyable lifestyle businesses you can create in 2019.

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Will Membership Sites Continue to Be Relevant in 2021?

I believe the membership sites that will thrive in 2019 and beyond are the ones that specifically cater to the niche within a niche.

I mentioned the super small target audience The Eighty Club is for. Those are the membership sites that are going to thrive because it can be so difficult for people with those identical interests to find each other and build a relationship.

So by becoming a hub for them, especially when there’s little competition, you can find yourself in a position of not only creating a great revenue stream but also becoming a key player in your industry or niche.

How to Build a Membership Site

If you have positive answers to each of these questions, and the idea of a membership site is still appealing to you, then you should check out our extremely detailed post on How to Build a Membership Site.

This gives you the nuts and bolts of going through the process and has just recently been updated.

If you’re already a member of LRA then dig into Hobby Hacking. There, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to building a niche site and turning it into other products, including a membership site.

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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Join over 40,000 people who have taken our 6 part freelance writing course. Sign up below and let’s do this together.

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6 comments on "Should You Start a Membership Site in 2021? Answer These 5 Questions"

  1. Ubai says:

    Great job Sean. I appreciate the straightforward, clear advice.

  2. TY Sean… I sent you and Liz an email about this earlier… AWESOME RESOURCES… Worth EVERY cent of membership alone!

  3. Ovais Mirza says:

    Hello Sean,

    I’m struggling here a little bit and can’t find an answer to my question. Is WordPress a strong enough platform for a very busy membership website with millions of subscriptions? I’m thinking of using it for the front page blog (CMS?) but also providing a private area for paid members. Can I do that with WP? Some say yes and others say no. From what I have gathered, it’s not so much the amount of posts, but the amount of data to be stored from the members.


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