10 Ways to Test Your Idea Before Building a Membership Site
Do you consider yourself a connector — someone who brings people together, whether it is in
business or personal life? Maybe your knowledge or ideas position you as a thought leader in
your field? If you answered yes to either question, consider leveraging your status by building a
membership website that will generate passive income and build an online community.
Reasons to build a membership website:
● You are an expert and want to sell access to your ideas instead of:
○ Taking time to give individual advice or coaching.
○ Letting people pick your brain for free.
● You belong to a loose community of people based upon interest in a specific topic. Paid
○ Add more structure.
○ Provide passive income for you or the group.
○ Allow you to develop additional benefits for the group members.
● You have an existing group and want to provide more value to your members by
restricting access posts or pages, events, tickets and networking to members only.
● You want to provide a way to connect people in your group to each other or potential
customers through an online directory.
Ways to test the waters:
Consider which of the ideas below feel right for you and the kind of members you hope to have.
The goal is to see if you can build an audience that can be converted to members with recurring
- Create an email list
Email marketing platforms like MailChimp typically offer a free level with a limited
number of subscribers. At last check, MailChimp doesn’t charge for up to 2000
subscribers. Add an email signup widget to your Facebook page or website to start
collecting prospect email addresses. MailChimp provides a landing page for your form if
you don’t have a website.
- Speak at a conference or event
If you are a thought leader, it shouldn’t be hard to find speaking opportunities at an
upcoming event for your field. If you create slides, offer to send them to attendees who
leave a business card. Or provide a short URL to a Google form for requesting slides
and joining your email list.
- Write a blog
If you are an expert, a blog can share wisdom with a wider audience. WordPress.com
offers a free platform for blogging and is the most popular CMS (content management
system) online. Allow your followers to subscribe to receive new posts by email
automatically. This can be handled within WordPress or you can use MailChimp’s RSS-
to-email feature to send out branded emails.
Create social media profiles:
The goal of social media is to gain followers that could one day be members. When you have
reached critical mass in terms of the number of followers, it’s time to build your membership
website. Before you begin, consider that social media is not a one-way communication tool. You
will need to:
○ Make posts on a regular — at least weekly — basis.
○ Use hashtags to ensure your content is being seen more widely.
○ Respond within 24 hours when people comment.
○ Comment on other’s posts, especially those in your field or industry. Answer
direct messages within a day.
○ And perhaps moderate discussions among group members.
Don’t start a group or set up profiles if you aren’t prepared to spend time in these ways. If you
plan to create a number of profiles, use tools to schedule posts and centralize activity.
- Create a Facebook group
A group can be a quick way to connect people who share an interest. Initially you can
add your friends who have interest in your topic. If group members find the content and
interactions meaningful, they’ll start to add friends. Messages posted in a group are also
much more likely to be seen than posts to a Facebook business page.
- Create an Instagram business profile
If your topic is visual or if you can make it visual, create an Instagram business profile.
Business profiles have access to Instagram Insights, which can tell you a lot about:
○ Follower demographics.
○ What content performs better.
○ Profile views, impressions, clicks and more.
You’ll also be able to add a contact button to your profile and the option to promote your
- Create a Twitter account
If you are good with words and like to have online conversations, Twitter may be the
best platform for you. Set up a business profile. Check out this guide to get started.
- Create a LinkedIn group
If your content is business-related, consider creating a LinkedIn Group. If you don’t want
to manage a group, be sure to post any blog posts on LinkedIn. See tips for building
- Build a YouTube Channel
If you have a unique point of view or “how to” lessons to share, you may want to start a
YouTube channel. Videos can be posted on your website as a member benefit. But
initially they can attract followers for your channel. You’ll also benefit from learning how
to create good videos before your videos need to be professional enough to warrant
charging for them. Add links from your channel to all of your other social profiles and
your email signup form.
- Conduct a survey
If you have a decent blog or social media following, create a survey to learn what your
target audience wants or needs. A survey can reveal what content you might put behind
a paywall. You might consider those who take the time to fill out a survey as die hard
fans. Reward them by offering:
○ Access to a VIP or premium level of membership.
○ A free membership.
- Offer free or inexpensive consultations
Quotes from happy members are the best way to convince potential members about the
value of membership. To gather testimonials, you can offer to do free or low-cost
consultations for a number of social media or email followers. If a decent number of
people reach out to take advantage of this offer, it’s further evidence that your
membership website idea is a good one.
Amy Hufford is a Technologist at MembershipWorks. She has worked in membership
technology for more than 20 years and has experience building membership websites with a
variety of membership software platforms.