Chances are, you’ve heard about people starting membership sites and making buckets of money.
Maybe you’re a little skeptical, and rightfully so. We all know better than to believe everything we read on the Internet.
But here’s the real question:
Should YOU start a membership website? Could YOU realistically expect to make any money?
And that’s a tough one to answer.
If you Google it, you’ll find lots of how-to’s for getting a membership site up and running, but nothing about how to figure out if a membership site will work for you.
What if your niche is the exception, and you pour days and dollars into setting one up and it belly-flops. And what’s more — and this is kinda embarrassing — you’re not even sure exactly what a membership site is.
I get it. In fact, I felt like a fool a while back when I was curious about the same thing. I’ll bet we’re not the only ones too. So, I’m going to clear it all up for you.
Let’s start at the beginning…
What is a Membership Site?
A membership site is any part of your online business that contains gated content (information behind a paywall). A gate is simply a barrier to limit access to your content to those who pay or you decide to let in. Once inside, they get access to your member area with exclusive content and privileges.
Think of it like a gym membership.
Before you’re allowed to pass the turnstiles, you’ve got to sign up as a paid member or for a free trial. Once you’re inside, you have access to everything, usually on an unlimited basis.
Sometimes you can also have different membership tiers. One membership level might have access to all the fitness machines, while another level up gives you access to a sauna and heated pool.
Simple enough, right?
It’s the same idea as a gym membership, except on the Internet. That’s pretty much the only difference.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s look at why having a membership website is a smart idea.
3 Reasons You Should Build a Membership Site
Put simply, membership sites are a blazing-great way to monetize your blog.
How exactly? Well, the money flows because of three key reasons:
Reason #1. Leverage
Membership sites allow you to leverage your time and content in two ways:
- Your membership content is a reusable asset. You can create it once and sell it to hundreds or even thousands of students for years to come.
- Membership sites can be totally automated. How dreamy is the idea of having a hands-off campaign that invites people to buy into your membership program while you’re sipping margaritas on the beach somewhere? And let’s not forget about the recurring income…
Reason #2. Value
Weirdly, people value things they pay for more than they value a freebie.
So in their eyes, your paid membership site content is more valuable than free information.
What’s more, once cash is exchanged, they’re more likely to take action and achieve results that get you rave reviews (which equals more sales).
There’s also an interesting money-credibility thing going on in cyberspace.
I’m sure you’ve noticed how easy it is for any old Joe to jump on Facebook live and create online content nowadays. It’s led to a rather strange online phenomenon, I call the ‘credibility gap’. Meaning, even though content volume is going up, trust in most free content is going down.
So, why not play this to your advantage?
I’ll explain. People attribute a higher level of credibility and trust to paid content, right?
Which means they’ll attribute higher value to any content available exclusively through paid member subscriptions. What’s more, existing members are more likely to upsell from within your membership site. Once they trust you, they’ll trust all your content.
And finally, let’s flip to your prospect’s perspective.
By packaging everything they need and presenting it with a bow and a roadmap, you’re making it easy for them. You’re also saving them tons of time.
No longer do they need to cartwheel about the internet piecing things together. You’ve given them one simple place to access everything they need and they’ll pay you for that simplicity.
The net result?
Prospective members become paid members, and your tribe grows a little bit bigger (more on that next).
Reason #3. Tribe
People love being surrounded by a tribe of people just like them, united by common interests, with similar problems and worries to chat about.
And membership sites build tribes. They provide people with a place to hang out, belong to and feel part of something bigger than themselves. It’s the vibe of your tribe that will make people stay, pay, and play.
Let’s not forget that every tribe has a leader too. One with unique character.
On the surface, it may seem as if people are just buying your content, but it’s really your character and personality they’re buying.
They want to be like you on some level. They’ll connect with your character through the tone of your writing or the personality you show in videos. And it’s this that they’ll return for over and over again with credit card in hand.
You’re convinced now, right?
Hmmm, I have an inkling you’re still wondering.
You know it’s a good idea. But… what if your niche is the exception? What if you are the exception?
Let’s take look at a few successful membership sites that all make over 100K so you’ve got some proof.
7 Successful Membership Site Examples
1. Orchids Made Easy
Growing orchids is a popular and ongoing hobby with hungry orchid enthusiasts worldwide.
Ryan “the orchid guy” has created a fantastic character story and feeds his members with continuous drip-fed content via a monthly membership subscription to his Green Thumb Club. As a new member, you can join at a low starting price for a month and test the waters.
2. The Game Changers
A specialist in the business coaching niche, Barry Magliarditi guides his members on an ongoing development journey that dives into the structures, systems and mindset that fuel business growth.
He offers a fixed fee membership to his Opulence Program which has three tiers of access. In other words, the more you pay, the more access you get to one-to-one advice.
3. Smart Blogger
Of course you know this one, but it’s totally worthy of a mention. As a leader in the blogging niche, Smart Blogger offers high-quality online courses to paying members.
Programs such as Serious Bloggers Only and Freedom Machine are phenomenal step-by-step guides for members to navigate how to start a blog and monetize it.
4. Lady Boss Weight Loss
Losing weight is a never-ending plight for millions of people. Kaelin Tuell Poulin has created a paid 28-day challenge membership site filled with stacks of advice that gets real results.
People start by joining for a 7-day free trial. Her style is authoritative and her character has a popular zero to hero story. She offers lifetime access to her content, plus a strong online community for support and accountability.
5. Magnetic Memory Method
Anthony Metivier’s membership offers free content, products and a fantastic blog on the surface.
Yet, the success of his behind-the-scenes membership program demonstrates the power of a narrow and focused niche with a strong sales funnel.
He leads people gently, builds trust and engages them as he moves them into his fixed-term online program. He also offers a continuity program membership option for those who want to stay — and many do!
6. Succulents and Sunshine
Cassidy Tuttle’s online business is a thriving success that uses a hybrid of affiliate commissions, display ads, eBook sales and a gated online course as income. She offers “easy access to all the resources and information you need to successfully grow succulents… all in one convenient place”, and has rave reviews as social media proof on her site.
Her site boasts lots of free content. But the premium content and one-to-one access to her advice is behind the paid gates of her online course. Smart!
7. Jan Spiller Astrology
In full disclosure, I couldn’t get confirmation that this site made over $100K, but it’s pretty safe to say it’s doing well given the length of time it’s been around.
Long-term survival in the online world is dependent upon income and a hungry market.
The unique traits of this membership site are the ongoing and endless drip-feed of readings and charts offered through a tiered membership model. Natal charts and astrological weather seem to be high value in this magical niche.
So, there’s no denying success can be had in a huge variety of niches.
But let’s take things a step further:
Lessons Learned from $100K Membership Sites
It’s apparent that success is possible for membership sites in a wide variety of niches. And you’ve no doubt noticed that there are different models for membership sites.
The trouble is, they all overlap in a blur of confused boundaries that leave you wondering exactly what would work for you.
To help, there are two distinct levels of difference you need to be aware of… the membership organization models and the variables.
Let’s dive in…
The Three Core Membership Business Models
1. The Fix Model
Fix model membership sites are focused on one thing — they solve a distinct problem. The problem can be a specific fix, such as how to grow a healthy succulent or how to write a novel. Or, they can fix a longer-term problem such as how to scale a business — often solved through three, six or twelve-month programs.
2. The Motivate Model
When people are faced with a goal that they’re likely to struggle with alone, such as weight loss, fitness goals or a new diet, having an external source of motivation is often the difference that makes the difference.
Paid access to challenges that have motivational communities to share struggles in are perfect for this membership model.
3. The Hangout Model
Otherwise known as the community model, this type of membership site offers people a place to connect and belong. Members are often united towards a common cause or passion such as gardening, cooking or freelance writing.
On the surface, they’ll appear to join because they want to solve a problem, yet they’re more hobbyists at heart and their love for their ‘thing’ drives them to be around others who speak their secret language.
Once you know which model suits you best you can customize your membership site by deciding from the following variables and membership features.
The Five Core Membership Site Variables
1. Fixed Fee or Monthly Fees
If you choose the Fixed model then a fixed fee works well. Prices can vary from a $27 online course to a $3,000 plus online program. It’s all about how much value you offer. The hangout model is perfect for a monthly fee recurring payment structure as people will pay to stay as long as you continue to provide regular high-value new content.
2. Content Type
When it comes to content, you’ve got an enormous range of choices.
Depending on your model, you can use video (live or you talking to slides), worksheets, workbooks, photos and mock-up illustrations, photography, quizzes, charts, graphs, interactive spreadsheets, Facebook live videos, podcasts, webinars, and so on.
As long as it’s online and accessible within a gated forum or platform, you’re good to go.
See, even mind-maps work as membership site content.
3. Drip or Immersion Access
Deciding when your members will get access to all of their content immediately or not is a personal preference. You can choose to drip feed content to members daily, weekly or monthly to protect your content.
Drip-fed content is perfect if you offer a free membership trial or want to build excitement and suspension.
Or, you can throw members into the deep end with full immersion access on day one and let them work as fast, or as slow as they choose.
4. Lifetime or Fixed-Term
There are no hard and fast rules here. Lifetime access provides paying members to ongoing ‘forever’ access to the course or content they’ve paid for. This works well for bigger, more detailed courses that take a long time to complete.
Fixed-term access is perfect to create a sense of urgency to encourage new members to complete the course. It also opens the door to offer a continuity program for those who haven’t finished within the fixed term and want to retain access.
5. Tiered or Single-Level
Single-level access means a fixed program structure. You may have one or more programs that solve a specific problem, which is best suited to a dedicated, single-level or set structure.
Or, you may offer a program in which three tiers work best. You can offer online access at a base level and leverage one-to-one access to you at your top level.
It’s pretty clear that membership sites can work in a huge range of niches. And they’re a great way to leverage your time to create the income you know could change your life and give you the freedom you crave.
But that’s not the real issue here, is it? Could it be that a sneaky fear of not being up to the task is lurking behind the clumsy charade of ‘will it work for me’?
You’d be inhuman if it wasn’t.
Regardless, now is the time to step up and decide. Because you’re only ever one decision away from changing your life. Could this be one of those decisions?
I’m guessing though, because you’re a passionate blogger with your heart set on spreading your message, that you’re keen to discover a bit more about how to build a membership site.
How to Build Your Membership Site
If you’re up for playing a bigger game, rather than giving in to those progress-halting worries of yesterday, you’re ready to create a membership site to leverage your time and make money faster. Fantastic!
But, just as you’re enjoying your moment of excited inspiration, you wonder what is the best membership website builder to create your membership site with?
Well, your options fit into two broad categories — a WordPress Plugin or a non-WordPress All-in-One membership site platform.
Let’s take a look.
If you’ve already got an existing WordPress website oozing with content and attracting traffic, then a WordPress membership plugin may be the best option.
Using a plugin gives your readers a sense of familiarity as you can maintain brand consistency and probably reuse your existing website theme.
Plugins make marketing simple because you can install a ‘log in’ button on your existing home page and avoid having to create a new domain name as well. Plugins these days are remarkably easy to get up and running too — even for non-techies.
Here are a few options for you:
- Memberpress — MemberPress will help you build astounding WordPress membership sites, accept credit cards securely, control who sees your content, and sell digital downloads … all without the difficult setup.
- Learndash — a powerful WordPress plug-in with course builder, quizzes, cart, group management and is compatible with any theme.
- Restrict Content Pro — a seriously top-level and increasingly popular membership plugin that offers all the features you could want.
- Memberium — Built exclusively for WordPress and Infusionsoft™, Memberium is the perfect tool for creating a scalable WordPress membership site.
- AccessAlly — if you’re ready for upselling and sophisticated marketing as well as a solid course builder with gamification and more, AccessAlly is a great option.
Perfect for bloggers or online newbies who don’t yet have a fully-fledged website or tech stack in place, all-in-one membership software makes things ridiculously easy. Just pay a subscription and have fun with the drag and drop builders to customize and upload your content.
You’ll also benefit from a host of extras such as payment systems and course builders, plus marketing and email automation options, as well. Job done.
Here are a few of the players worth considering in this space:
- Kajabi — The all-in-one tool for those who want it all and want it simple. Websites, membership sites, landing pages, quizzes, online courses, webinars and payments.
- Teachable — With just a few clicks, you’ll get a fully functioning school with learning management, payment gateways, and sales and marketing tools.
- Thinkific — Drag and drop design, customized pricing and cart for those who want to educate with confidence.
- Kartra — This relative newbie packs a punch as it does every-single-online-thing you’ll ever need. Pre-written funnels, email marketing, membership sites, analytics and everything else.
- Simplero — Action packed ALL in one for your website, membership platform, email list and business management, CRM, web hosting, payments, marketing — everything you’ll need to be online in one place.
Is an Online Membership Site for You?
Starting your own membership site isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain kind of person to jump into content and community membership management like this.
Yet, for a blogger who is serious about monetizing and earning recurring revenue, it’s a road worth considering. Seriously.
Because it’s a way to build a following and an income — fast.
A membership site means you’ll build your name with credibility, trust and value. It’ll make you stand out from the crowd as an online entrepreneur with a character people love.
Because you’ll be someone who offers a solution to fix problems, motivates people beyond that which they can achieve alone and you’ll give them a place they want to hang out.
But only you know if you’re up to the task.
Only you know if you’re disciplined enough to map out a vision, a structure and create the content you need.
Only you know if you’re up to taking the leap and taking charge of your future.
So what do you say?
Are you up for it? Or not?
27 thoughts on “7 Membership Sites that Make $100K+ Per Year”
Nice to see another post from you here at Smart Blogger!
Excellent look at the ins and outs and how-tos of membership sites. From your research, which model seems to most common? How about most lucrative? (My hunch is The Motivate Model, but I’m probably wrong.)
Off to tweet. Hope you have a great day, Miranda!
Thanks for the warm welcome back! Great questions too.
Most common, I’d have to say the Fix Model probably. As for the most lucrative… well that would depend on the time period or client lifetime.
I’d say that in the short term, it’s entirely possible the Motivate Model sites may be quite lucrative as they seem to have a wider audience. Although their goals are often quite short lived.
In contrast, Fix or Hangout Model sites have the benefit of ongoing revenue and upsell opportunities as their client’s needs grow and change.
Thanks for the tweet.
This is very inspiring, Miranda, and thanks for including the Magnetic Memory Method.
One of the most beautiful things that will happen when you serve people continuously using any of the models you’ll suggest, is that content ideas arrive on autopilot.
I think of the site as a kind of ship on the ocean of the Internet. It’s not just that the audience puts wind in the sails. The sails are also built from their needs and aspirations.
And they have helped me explore many islands I had no idea existed.
Thanks again and happy serving to all who take up the mantle and create their own membership sites!
So true Anthony, when you serve your audience with real intention, and really observe their needs and wants, the content ideas begin to flow. Thanks for sharing your insights. And, you’re most welcome, it was a pleasure to include your site in this post.
I use LearnPress as a membership plugin. Its basic version is free and it can easily be combined with the most popular digital downloads plugin – Easy Digital Downloads. Paid membership pro is also good option!
Well done for having a membership site up and running!
Thanks for publishing this type of nice post.
I like your post very much. Your all of articles are very helpful for me.
I hope you keep posting this type of article…
Glad you enjoyed it Simon. We’ll keep writing posts like this for sure 🙂
We definitely love your blog and discover most of your post’s to be precisely exactly what I’m trying to find.
can you provide visitor writers to compose content for you? I would not mind producing a post.
or elaborating on most of the topics you write related to here.
Once again, amazing blog!
Thanks Samuel !
Very informative post.
Thanks for sharing this post with us.
Have a great day.
Oh wow that was a great article.
Your article will help me.
Thank you and looking forward to learn more from this blog.
Good luck with it all. Keep learning. 🙂
Great article, thanks! It’s maybe a year away from me at this point, but it’s great to get my sub-conscious working on it, and I’m glad to have a place I can go to get my bearings when the time comes. FYI: when I wanted to find this article again, the only google hit was from nitro-net.com which seems to have re-posted it with too little effort at attribution.
Nice to see another post from you here at Smart Blogger!
Good article Miranda.
I just launched my membership site a few weeks ago and am taking in founding members at a heavily discounted price which they keep for the life of their membership.
It’s a great way to offer insane value (to the founding members) and then tempt them to stay given the fact that they keep their low prices despite price hikes for new members.
I found that if you give your members awesome value they’ll tell other people to join and the membership grows organically. It’s so much fun.
How long have you had your membership site for?
Thanks so much Ash. Well done on launching your new membership site – a huge achievement! Serving your audience and creating raving fans with epic value and care is such a great way to build your membership organically. People love to talk about moments they feel taken care of and invite others to be part of it too.
I agree completely!
How long have you been running your membership site for?
Very interesting article, Miranda. I think a membership site is a great way to make money, but I’m sure it’s also a huge responsibility – you have to constantly live up to your members’ expectations and be highly organized. And what happens when you want to walk away from it? If you can build a membership site into a saleable asset, then there’s an even bigger financial reward at the end of it, but it can’t be a site that has you as the figurehead. Maybe that’s something to think about whe you’re starting out. Thanks for all your hard work in putting this together.
Hey Mel, thanks for sharing your thoughts.
For sure, a level of responsibility comes with running a membership site. Perhaps you could switch the idea of having to live up to expectations (which kinda sounds like a pressure) to a desire to serve and add huge value to your audience?
You can take into account your audience’s needs to help them to achieve their desired outcome, yet, filter that through your own boundaries and ensure that’s it’s aligned with where your business is going and how it serves best. Meaning, you’re not driven solely by your audience, you make decisions based on more ecological needs – is it good for me, is it good for them, does it serve the greater good.
As for being able to sell your membership site, that depends on if you create a personal brand or develop IP that’s structured so it’s saleable. Worth considering.
All the best for 2019 🙂
Thanks for sharing such a valuable post. Miranda. I think a membership site is a great way to make money.
Yes it is!
Found your post interesting to read. I can’t wait to see your post soon. Good Luck for the upcoming update. This article is really very interesting and effective.
I have been searching for such an informative post for many days and it seems my search just ended here. Good work. Keep posting.
Thanks Juan. I’m pleased I stopped your search for information on membership sites – good luck building your site.
I wanted to give you a heads up. Someone needs to evaluate this membership site list. I noticed the Orchids Made Easy site has not had any updates since 2014. Also, on the other platforms, they are on as well.
I’m planning to launch a membership site. The whole content is going to be only for paying members. The content is going to be in text and image format. I have decided to use Wordpress and one of the plugins from s2 member, paid memberships pro. I’m confused about which theme to use for my membership site. What are your suggestions?