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Is Creating a Membership Site the Right Choice for Your Business?

There comes a point in every freelancer’s life when you start to think about additional, or alternative, forms of income other than your usual core services.

Nightmare clients?

Tight deadlines?

Working every hour under the sun?

Don’t feel you’re reaching your full potential?

Sooner or later the temptation of switching to a more “passive” kind of income is bound to come knocking on your door.

If you want some more passive income in your freelance business, you might want to consider starting a membership site. Here's how to know if it's the right model for your business.

When you can’t shake the feeling that there must be a better alternative for making a living, your thoughts might turn to creating and selling ebooks, courses, or even running your own membership website; all of which can be great ways of increasing your income and restoring a little more balance in your working life.

The lure of membership sites in particular can be a strong one – recurring monthly income? Yes please!

However, as much as I love membership sites, they aren’t the right solution for everyone.

For a start, while to many they may appear the ‘holy grail’ of passive income; they are very rarely passive! The best membership websites take a lot of work.

So, before you dive in head first with planning your membership, it’s worth really thinking about whether it’s the right option for you.

Here’s 6 questions to ask yourself to help you make that decision:

Question 1: Do you want to better leverage your time?

As a freelancer, you’ll usually find yourself playing the game of trading time for money. And there comes a point where you’ve either reached the limit of time available to you, or you simply don’t have the resources to take on additional work.

If that cut-off point occurs before you hit your income goal, then you’re left with several options:

  1. Expand your team
  2. Raise your prices
  3. Create a product

Not everyone wants to expand their team, and when you factor in payments to additional team members it may not be the best decision. Similarly, it may not be suitable for you to raise your prices right now, or that still might not give you the income that you want.

Creating a product on the other hand gives you a valuable asset that you can make money from on an ongoing basis.

And if that product is a membership site, you have the potential to add stable recurring income to your business every month – and increasing that recurring income every month – without having to work all the hours possible to do so (but don’t get me wrong, there is work involved!).

So, if you’re looking for a way to better leverage your time and get out of the time for money trap, a membership site should definitely be on the shortlist.

Question 2: Do you have knowledge or skills that others will pay to learn?

This is a big one! Do you actually have knowledge, skills, information or expertise that you can teach others to enable them to fulfill a particular goal? Can you teach people how to write awesome copy for their website? How about how to set up their first blog?

As a freelancer you undoubtedly have skills and knowledge – but what can you offer that people will actually pay for?

It’s important to remember here that you don’t need to be the leading authority on something to teach it to other people, you just need to be more advanced than the people you’re wanting to teach. As long as you can offer value and get people where they need to be, you’re off to a great start.

Question 3: Do you enjoy being part of online communities?

You might not think about this initially, but it’s actually really important. If you prefer to talk to people over the phone or face to face, try to avoid email and definitely don’t like hanging out in Facebook groups or other online communities, then I’m going to suggest a membership site might not be right for you.

Membership sites are all about online communication, and usually have a heavy community element involved as well. If the thought of that sends you cold then a more passive approach such as an ebook or standalone course might suit you better.

As part of this I’d also say that if you’ve never actually been part of a membership site yourself, join one. Heck, join two or three! You can’t really know if a membership site is for you if you’ve never actually seen how they work before. So, before you go any further, dip your toes in the membership site pool and see if you like it from a members point of view.

A side benefit of this is that being part of other membership sites also gives you a glimpse of the different ways that memberships can run, which can help you establish the type of membership site that you want yourself.

Question 4: Do you enjoy creating content?

Your membership site will need to have some kind of ongoing content and this could be video lessons, mini courses, coaching, live training…you can use pretty much any kind of content that is suitable for your topic.

The important thing is that you actually enjoy creating that content and that you can carry on creating it indefinitely. Does the idea of creating content that helps others to get results fire you up? Or does it feel like it’s going to be ‘yet another thing on the to-do list’?

Now, to a certain extent you’re in control of the kind of content you create and the amount of content. And there are memberships that are mainly community based, or that don’t need regular new content. However for the majority of sites, if you’re asking members to pay monthly, they’re going to be expecting you to deliver value each month. And your content is the main way to do that.

It’s also a good idea to consider how much content you can actually create on your chosen subject. Make a list of all the different topics that you could cover – if you were to cover one topic a month does that list give you enough content for at least a year? If not, you might be better off creating a fixed length course instead.

Question 5: Can you commit to this long term?

When you’ve got a great idea it can be tempting to go full steam ahead, start your membership site and then think about the logistics later.

Don’t do that.

It’s important to know from the outset that a membership site is an ongoing commitment and you need to be in it for the long haul if you really want to make it work.

So, think about whether you’re ready to actually commit to this on a long term basis – will you still want to be running your membership in 6 months? 12 months? 2 years? As I mentioned when talking about content, you also need to ensure that you actually have enough to talk about in your membership on an ongoing basis too!

I’ll admit here I’m a bit of a commitment-phobe, and for me this was my biggest (in fact only) hesitation in creating a membership site. I didn’t want to let my members down by starting something that I would be bored of in 3 months time. But I realized that I loved the topic, had a lot of information to share on it and that I really enjoyed the idea of building a long term community and watching members get results over time. Once I realized that it was easy to commit to the membership being a long term ongoing project.

Question 6: Are you actually doing it for the right reasons?

Despite what you might have heard, membership sites aren’t an easy ride. They are very much a marathon not a sprint, and in order to be truly successful you need to put some blood, sweat and tears in (but it’s worth it – honest!)

So, if you’re thinking of creating a membership site because you want to make a lot of money quickly (and with very little ongoing effort) so that you can move to Maui and drink Mai Tai’s all day, then I hate to break it to you but a membership site isn’t really for you.

But if you want to share your knowledge and expertise with a wide audience who could really benefit from what you’re teaching them, if you love the thought of being an online educator or of growing a community of like minded individuals, and yes, you’d like to make money doing it, then a membership site could be just what you’re looking for.

Whilst membership sites are often touted as passive income, that’s not really the approach that is needed to make your site successful. The best membership sites provide an ongoing exchange of value, and that doesn’t fit with a ‘set it and forget it’ attitude.

Still not sure if a membership site is for you?

After reading through the above questions you might be left thinking:

‘Woo hoo, I think a membership site is just want I want to create!’

Or

‘Yeah, I don’t think membership sites are for me right now’

Or you might be left thinking that it kind of sounds like it might be what you want to do, but you’re not 100% sure just yet.

If that’s the case then my suggestion is to try creating a course or a minimum viable product (MVP) first, before jumping fully into a membership site. You could even simply try creating a free Facebook Group if your concern is more whether there is an audience for your topic.

Creating a smaller product first will allow you to get comfortable with content creation, test out whether there is an audience for your topic and even help to formulate a clearer picture of your eventual membership site.

Plus it gives you an asset that you can use to build your audience while you’re creating your membership, giving you a highly targeted launching ground. So it’s a win-win really!

And if you do decide creating a membership site is for you, then you’ll find that it’s an amazing way of leveraging your time and expertise and helping a lot more people than you could on a 1-1 basis, all whilst enjoying some regular income being added to your bank account every month.

Callie Willows As one half of The Membership Guys – Callie Willows is on a mission to show entrepreneurs and small business owners how they can better leverage their time, knowledge, experience and expertise – as well as increase their income – by creating a successful, meaningful membership website. Read the blog or listen to the podcast at www.themembershipguys.com or check out the Member Site Academy at www.membersiteacademy.com

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