Generating Income from Membership Websites

The concept is simple and the benefits can be huge, but membership websites demand hard work. Today's Web professionals have more opportunity than ever to cash in on long-term subscription income once they understand what it takes to successfully launch and, more importantly, maintain a loyal member base. 

There are four specific stages involved in creating a membership website. Each one is as important as the rest, and no successful membership site is without all four of them. These stages are concept creation, development, launch and maintenance.

Concept Creation
Creating the concept for your membership website is crucial, but it can be as simple as "See a need, fill a need." What aspect of your current business can be automated, optimized or expanded upon to help fill a greater need?

That need is what creates the demand for your product and what will ultimately result in a stable monthly subscription income for years to come. Finding a need to fill is only one part of this equation, however. The second part of concept creation is determining what type of membership website you're going to build. There are several types of possibilities, including the following:

- Web-based Software - Software as a Service or SaaS
- A Web-based Community - Private, membersonly Web forum
- An Information Product - Secure website or physical information product in which new information is published or delivered on a regular basis
- Hybrid Model - A combination of software, forum and/or information product

In the concept-creation phase, it is important to clearly define which type of service you are going to create. Determining the type up front gives you, and your team, a clear idea of the product you're building and allows you to follow a precise course of action to bring your product to market.

The development stage is where we get into the technical framework or software platform on which your product is going to be built. Development is also the stage where you will determine how member payments will be processed, as well as where you will define the human resources that you need to develop and maintain your service.

The software or framework is where content delivery and membership management is handled. As with anything technical, you have many choices as to the platform that you can use to build your membership site upon. The payment gateway is how you will charge your members for their monthly subscriptions.

There are many options when choosing a payment gateway, but and you don't have to set up a merchant account to accept credit card payments. The easiest way to accept payments is to use PayPal as it is immediately recognizable, it supports recurring subscriptions and it has a long-standing reputation as a secure way to send and receive payments on the Web.

The final piece in the development stage is staffing. When it comes to customer support, if you anticipate high numbers it makes sense to hire a support person on an hourly basis. You can set this up so that your support person takes care of the easier customer support issues and passes only the more challenging tickets on to you.

This frees you up for content creation, marketing and other more high-level tasks that invariably come with creating a popular new service.

Once your service is well-tested and ready for market, it is time to launch. When launching a product you need to determine exactly how you will roll it out. Your options are simple and they include the following:

- Soft Launch - Simply open the doors and start promoting. Depending on your marketing skills, customers will start trickling in one by one over time as word spreads about your service.

- Hard Launch- The big-hype, buzz-filled launch sequence using your own list and/or the list of your joint venture partners.

Both launch models have their own benefits as well as drawbacks, and you need to choose one based on your own resources and the niche in which you are promoting.

The soft launch is a good way to roll out a product on its own or as a way to test everything prior to a big-hype, hard-launch sequence. The soft launch also allows you to debug any issues that creep up, and there are always issues, before exposing your product to a very large audience.

The hard launch is a technique in which you promote your service to your own list or set up joint venture partnerships with other experts that have a large following and get them to promote your product in exchange for a commission. The hard launch method can be extremely profitable from launch day forward, but you need to effectively create buzz about your product days or even weeks before launch day. This creates somewhat of a buying frenzy and can result in a surge of traffic, so make sure that your infrastructure and Web server can handle the load.

Contrary to popular belief, membership websites are not a "set-it-and-forget-it" business. The world is in motion, and the Internet is no different. What works today may not work tomorrow, and you need to stay innovative and provide value every single month.

If you keep your members happy, they will remain members for months, even years, to come. The best way to keep your customers happy is to continue to provide value every month.

If you have an information product, this means you need additional content generation. If you have a Web-based software, you can add new features that users request whenever possible. If you have a private Web forum, you need to keep the conversations flowing and encourage users to post new threads and get your members to know, like and trust you.

The Internet is full of opportunity for the hardworking, creative entrepreneur looking to build a membership site. With an audience of millions, and more coming online every day, there are unlimited possibilities for new subscription-based products and services on the Web.

Remember, the key is to find a need and fill that need with your product or service. If you fill that need every month with innovative and valuable content, you will be able to build a stable monthly income that lasts for years to come.

Corey Bornmann is the founder of, a suite of tools for Internet marketers. He has been an Internet marketer since 2007 and currently runs four membership-based websites.