Membership Sites Today The topics for successful member only websites are as varied today as...short people, tall people, buying websites, unusual business ideas, selling stocks, paint ball, 2nd wives clubs, financial, dating, fitness, marketing and countless mentoring and coaching sites on almost every topic imaginable and probably a few you can’t imagine or wouldn’t want to imagine. It takes some work and certainly the right tools to set up a members-only website but the rewards (monetary as well as personal satisfaction) can be huge. Whatever you are passionately interested in or very adept at can be the topic of a members-only website today. One of the first types of membership sties on the Internet was the online dating site. In the beginning, they were mostly populated with nerds, weirdoes and perverts but as the Internet matured the sites became popular among people from all walks of life. They have even progressed so far as to offer pre-screening of members. Most porn sites are membership only sites. There are membership sites today that cover just about every area of human interests. Some offer informational or teaching material that is only able to be accessed by site members. Some membership sites are able to be viewed by non members but non-members are not allowed to participate in the activities or post to the message boards on the site. Sites that provide information to find work-at-home jobs, for example, can see the listing of jobs but cannot apply for the jobs unless they are members of the membership site. There are membership sites that provide instruction is such things as how to play a guitar. The lessons are accessible only to members of the site, although those who are not members can view what subjects are being taught in the lessons. Membership sites usually accept payment for membership fees by credit card or by personal check.
Why Start a Membership Site? People are willing to pay for online content. In fact, the "Online Publishers Association" said that pay-for content is emerging as a hot revenue model. Business content, personals/match making, and entertainment are the hottest niches.
But even smaller niches, like DVD authoring, sports coaching, marketing services, and dieting are producing profits. You can sell subscriptions for online content with your own membership site? Selling online content by way of a password protected website has become big business. Not only is it fast to set up, but the start-up and running costs are minimal. Work from home entrepreneurs and big businesses alike are tapping into this new-found revenue source.
Less than nine percent of online users currently pay for online content. This means the market is wide open for the savvy entrepreneur. Paying for content in 2004 was more than 5 times what it was in 2005. That’s a whopping 500% growth!
Those who capture the market first in their niche will have the obvious advantage and it’s an international market, so anyone can play. One of the great things about starting a membership site is you can take your hobby, specialized knowledge or profession and turn it into a profitable business. Your challenge will be finding exclusive content. You can start it part time but it will likely develop into a full time business.
Planning for and setting your site up for auto-responders, automated sign-ups, credit card processing, automated cancellations, etc is all part of a successful membership website. Starting and running a membership site can be a lot of fun and very exciting, however you need to know what’s involved in setting one up, and then managing it effectively. This whole process can seem a bit daunting.
However, as complex as this seems, many companies offer a low cost, easy-to-use software solution. This makes it possible for almost anyone to start and market a membership site at a very low cost.
The Different Types of Membership Sites There are basically two types of membership sites. There are free sites and there are paid for sites. The two types of membership sites have one thing is common. Their memberships are made up of people who share a common interest or have a common need. You can, of course, buy a domain, set up a website and not charge for memberships but choose who to admit and who not to admit. This is done when the profit is intended to come from sales to members after they join the site. There are free network sites that might be used for your purposes. Two examples of free membership sites are Group sites on MSN and groups on Yahoo. It costs nothing to set these sites up and there is no charge at all for a person to join. There are no paid administrators or moderators. Each site sets its own rules for how to join and the code of conduct for the site. The site topics are many and varied. There are many “support” sites for those with health problems or concerns and for those who have suffered the loss of loved ones. There are sites for those who are passionate about crafts like quilting or woodworking. There are sites for those who love to travel. There are sites for different age groups from teens to seniors. The sites include chat software and a limited amount of space for posting pictures, documents and links per member. The free sites do not have such things as access to specialized data or lists. They don’t give access to such things as music lessons. Paid for membership sites are set up by businesses or individuals with the objective of making money by supplying hard to find information, access to specialized data or lists, or instruction in various fields. Membership sites are owned and operated by people who either own the sites or who are hired by the site owners to monitor and administer them. The topics for paid for membership sites are even more varied than the free sites and certainly more specialized.
Deciding on Your Membership Model The model you decide upon for your membership site is of the utmost importance and the one you choose depends upon your objectives. There are basically two types of membership sites. There are free sites and there are paid for sites. The two types of membership sites have one thing is common. Their memberships are made up of people who share a common need or have a common interest. You can, of course, buy a domain, set up a website and not charge for memberships but choose who to admit and who not to admit. Or you can just set up a site on an already established network. Two examples of free membership sites are Group sites on MSN and groups on Yahoo. It costs nothing to set these sites up and there is no charge at all for a person to join. There are no paid administrators or moderators. Each site sets its own rules for how to join and the code of conduct for the site. The site topics are many and varied. There are many “support” sites for those with health problems or concerns and for those who have suffered the loss of loved ones. There are sites for those who are passionate about crafts like quilting or wood working. There are sites for those who love to travel. There are sites for different age groups from teens to seniors. The sites include chat software and a limited amount of space for posting pictures, documents and links per member. The free sites do not have such things as access to specialized data or lists. They don’t give access to such things as music lessons. Paid for membership sites are set up by businesses or individuals with the objective of making money by supplying hard to find information, access to specialized data or lists, or instruction in various fields. Membership sites are owned and operated by people who either own the sites or who are hired by the site owners to monitor and administer them. The topics for paid for membership sites are even more varied than the free sites and certainly more specialized.
Suggested Membership Site Themes When you are deciding on the theme for your membership site, it is best if you can choose a theme that concerns something you are really interested in…even passionate about. Remember that you will be spending a lot of time keeping your membership informed, keeping your website interesting and keeping relevant and timely content on your website and in your ezine that you send out regularly. If you choose to start a membership site about…say….dogs. Just dogs in general won’t attract many members. You will need to choose a specific breed….and possibly even narrow it down further. Instead of Poodles, your theme should be; Tiny Toy Poodles, Miniature Poodles, or Standard Poodles, for example. Millions of people are dog lovers and the theme of a specific breed of dog should do well. If you are really into video or computer games, start a membership site devoted to one specific game… not just video games or computer games in general. People all over the world and from every walk of life get really involved with a specific video or computer game and love to talk to others about the game and give each other hints. There are thousands…maybe millions…of people who love certain crafts and hobbies. However, those who love to quilt aren’t interested in wood working so your membership site should be about a specific craft or hobby. Professionals like to talk to other professionals in the same field. Each professional field speaks their own language and find the same things to be interesting, informative or funny. So if you start a membership site for professionals, you should get a good response. A membership website with the theme, ‘Resell Rights’, should do well, also. This kind of site will need to be kept updated on a regular basis.
Starting a Free Membership Site Basically, a free membership site is a site where the user is not charged a membership fee to use the site but is required to supply their e-mail address, choose a user name and password to enter the site, participate in the discussions and activities. Sometimes free memberships are limited to less useful information or access while paid memberships have full access. A large entity like MSN, for example, allows members to access most things on their sites without the need for any sign in procedure at all but, in order to join a group, you must supply your email address, choose a user name and a password. The use of the site is still free. However, to use MSN as your ISP or to gain enhanced email resources you will be required to pay for it. In the same way, an individual might start a free membership website. There would be no charge at all to access the site. To gain access to limited information would require supplying an email address, choosing a user name and a password. To gain full access to the site would most likely require payment if the information they are providing merits a fee. Some sites never charge a membership fee and rely solely on selling their own product or promoting products produced by others as a source of income. Free membership sites very rarely, if ever, supply information that you couldn’t easily acquire on the Internet yourself. An individual who sets up a free membership site doesn’t do it for free so they will be planning to make an income in some way. Usually free membership sites are for the purpose of selling a product or service. Some information will be provided but supplying information is not the main objective.
Starting a Paid Membership Site Whatever you call them - member only, membership, subscription, or mentor websites, they all have one thing in common. They are bringing in steady and constant cash flow for their owners, month after month, from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. The array of the topics of these websites is endless. Some of these paid membership sites provide mentoring or coaching, others publish useful articles or information in a particular field or product. Still others publish the results of tests and studies or product reviews. Some membership sites provide specialized service or act as a meeting place for people with a common interest and then there are those that provide step-by-step instructions for such things as painting or music. All these sites have one thing in common: to access the website (or the best information on the site) you have to pay for it! Which begs the question…why would anybody pay for information on the Internet? The answer is simple. People buy information that they could probably find for themselves if they looked long enough and hard enough, because they want to save time or because they think the information will be better or more specialized or because the information just isn’t available to them unless they pay for it. Just a few short years ago it was almost unheard of to charge for access to a website and almost no one was doing it. Today, however, it is the norm and not the exception. Actually we have Internet dating sites to thank for this huge money making opportunity. The Internet dating industry began with free membership sites that were mostly populated by nerds, weirdoes and perverts. It was quickly discovered that ordinary people would gladly pay to have access to lists where the posters had been screened even just a little. Now people actually expect to pay for access to valuable information.
Beware of Affiliate Spamming! The modern variation of the practice of paying finder's-fees for the introduction of new clients to a business is a popular method of promoting Internet businesses called affiliate marketing. An affiliate marketer is paid for every visitor, subscriber, or customer provided to an Internet business because of his efforts. The affiliate marketer earns compensation based on a certain value for each visit (Pay per click), registrant (Pay per lead), or a commission for each customer or sale (Pay per Sale), or any combination.
You can see where an affiliate marketer would be sorely tempted to send out email advertising the products he makes money on for promoting. This resulted in so much SPAM being generated that anti-spam laws were enacted. Spammers are severely fined and the newest twist in the anti-spam laws are that the merchants whose affiliates spam are being held responsible for the spamming as well. So caution is well advised to merchants.
Merchants who are considering adding an affiliate strategy to their online sales channel should research the different technological solutions available to them. As affiliate marketing has matured many affiliate merchants have refined their terms and conditions to prohibit affiliates from spamming. Some types of affiliate management solutions include: standalone software, hosted services, shopping carts with affiliate features, and third party affiliate networks.
Spamdexing or search engine spamming is the practice of deliberately creating web pages which will be indexed by search engines in order to increase the chance of a website or page being placed close to the beginning of search engine results, or to influence the category to which the page is assigned. Right now there is a lot of debate about the affiliate practice of Spamdexing and many affiliates have converted from sending email spam to creating large volumes of automatically generated web pages each devoted to different niche keywords as a way of search engine optimizing their sites. This is sometimes referred to as spamming the search engine results. Spam is the biggest threat to organic Search Engines whose goal is to provide quality search results for keywords or phrases entered by their users.
The Importance of Offering Regular Publishing Schedules The people who have paid to join your membership site depend on you to provide relevant and timely information. It is their right to expect that information to be updated on a regular basis because they may be depending upon it to make decisions. When a person joins your membership site they should be told what your publishing schedule will be so that they know when they can expect to get fresh information. Adhering to that announced schedule is vitally important. Deciding what your publishing schedule will be for your website is important. Keep in mind the kind of information you will be supplying to your membership. Information that changes hourly will require a RSS feed. Information that needs to up-dated on a daily basis will most likely require a content management system. For weekly publishing of content, you can do that yourself but a content management system can make it a lot easier. When you are planning your newsletter, you need to decide how often your ezine or newsletter will be sent out to your subscribers. Basically, you need to create a schedule and stick with it. But how often should you publish? How much is too much and how often is not enough? When it comes to frequency, the usual choices are daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Daily - that means 365 newsletters a year. You could wear out your welcome even with your most devoted members. Weekly - that is still a lot of work…52 letters a year…a little over 4 a month. Would your members appreciate that much mail from you? Bi-weekly - Publishing an e-zine twice a month is just often enough to keep you fresh in your subscribers' minds but not so often that they become annoyed with you. Monthly - doesn’t seem often enough. Your members may forget about you and where your website lives on the Internet.
Tips on Improving Your Membership Site Improving and improving again your membership website is what will keep it dynamic and making a steady and reliable income. It is a law of nature (and the Internet) that everything either grows or dies. Constant improvement of your membership website will insure it grows and lives. The content of your membership website needs to always be kept up-to-date with relevant and useful information. Keep your eyes open and all of your feelers out for information that your subscribers will find interesting and helpful. If you have always relied on only print information up to this point, try adding some audio or video. People today prefer to hear or see information rather than just to read information. Setting up audio or video feeds to your website isn’t very difficult and can make a huge difference in the traffic and membership. Each e-zine or newsletter should be filled with vital and timely information so that your subscribers eagerly await the next issue. Spend as much time and energy as you need to insure that your e-zine or newsletter isn’t just deleted when it hits the in-box. Use your autoresponder to your greatest advantage. You already use it to send out emails and ezines and newsletters. Now use it to send out vital NEWS FLASHES. Make the autoresponder get the attention of your subscribers. If you don’t already have a blog, forum or message board on your membership website, then set one up as soon as possible. Members like to have input and you will benefit greatly from constructive member input. You can ask them what they would like to see on the website and then act on suggestions that are viable. Invite a guest who is a guru in the field of your website theme to participate in an online chat discussion. Set a specific starting and stopping time and be sure to outline the discussion topics.
The Main Focus of Your Membership Site Whatever the theme of your membership website is, it should always be your main focus. Every piece of written content, audio content or video content should be about the main theme of your membership website. Little side trips into very closely related fields is alright but even very closely related subjects should never detract from the main focus of your site. When you chose the theme for your membership website, you chose it because it was something that you knew a lot about and/or were (and hopefully still are) passionate about. I saw a sign in a convenience store not long ago that said something like….we strive to always be kind, considerate and helpful. However, it is hard to remember that the main objective is to drain the swamp when you are up to your ears (cleaned up) in alligators. That is true for owners of membership websites. It really is hard to stay focused on your objectives when you have so many things to distract you from doing what you need to do to keep your website focused on the main theme. No matter how many distractions you have, you must still keep new, fresh, relevant and timely content on your website that pertains to the theme of your site. Your ezines and newsletters need to be filled with helpful and useful information. Be sure to continually check for new products that would be helpful to your membership. New products come out daily and you don’t want to fall behind. You need to make full use of your autoresponder to keep your members informed and to keep them focused on the objective, as well. Your blog, forum or message board topics can become unfocused and off-topic very easily. They must be monitored daily…maybe even several times each day.
Being Professional with Help Desk Systems and Forums You need to automate everything if you want to be successful in measuring customer satisfaction. Surveying your customers is a great way of measuring customer satisfaction but if they take too much time away from other important work, it will fall by the wayside. Automate both your requests for completing the survey and your collection and reporting of the data. Some help desk management software will do this for you. If yours does not, consider customization that will enable it -- it's worth the investment. One of the best ways to find out how effective your customers think your help desk or forum is, is to take a survey.... ask the people who actually use the help desk or forum what they think about it. Asking for suggestions to improve your help desk or forum is a good idea. There are many approaches to surveying, but some are more effective than others. Often times membership websites will send a customer satisfaction survey of their help desk or forum to their entire list. There are several problems with this approach. First not everyone surveyed will have used your help desk's services. This will either make your percentage of responses low or add irrelevant responses to your data. Since you only request this information once in a while, you will be tempted to cram too much information into the survey. Often these surveys lack focus and do not give you a clear picture of performance. A better approach to help desk or forum customer satisfaction measurement is case-by-case surveying. Each time a case is closed, meaning the problem was resolved and the resolution was already communicated to the requester, a short survey on the case is sent to the requester. This is great information for continuous improvement and you can review the comments provided by your customers.
The Importance of an Affiliate Program to Membership Sites Affiliate programs are important to membership sites for a number of good reasons. An affiliate program isn't really a program. It's a business arrangement. Affiliate programs are also known as associate programs, associates programs, referral programs and even bounty programs. Most affiliate programs are free to join. Affiliate programs are a way to earn money without producing your own product. Affiliate programs allow a membership website to generate additional (other than the membership subscription) income by advertising products that are relevant to the site’s theme. For example, let’s say you own a membership website whose theme is golf. You would recommend products that you like yourself like golf books, magazines, videos and golfing gear. When you have an affiliate agreement with the merchants selling those products, they provide you with affiliate links which you paste into your site. Then when members click on those links and buy those products, you earn a commission. Affiliates programs can earn commissions in three ways: per click, per sale and per lead. The members on a membership website are helped by the affiliate programs as well. They are given easy access to products that they would otherwise have to search the internet to find. On the other side of the aisle, you can let other companies post your ad on their sites and pay commissions for sales of your product or memberships. Sure, you may give away 10 percent of your profit to an affiliate; but 90 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing. You’ll make up in sales quantity what you may lose in percentage of your own net. It’s quite worthwhile in the long run. Use your e-zine to advertise your affiliate program. Always encourage your newsletter subscribers to forward the newsletter to a friend.
Is Starting a Membership Site for You? The Internet is the ultimate 'equal opportunity employer'. Anybody can start a membership business on the Internet. All that is needed is a subject, a website and the tools to build the site. You can start a membership website business but the question is should you? Many people that decide to start a home based membership website business are destined to fail because their motivation and expectations are completely unrealistic. Before you attempt to start a membership website business you need to do a reality check. First, if you really think that you can build a couple of web pages, invest little or no money, time or effort and start making an income tomorrow, you are so wrong. Building a business…any business…takes time. It also takes a monetary investment, a lot of effort and energy, and, above all else, patience, passion for the theme of the website, and a drive for success. Almost equally important is the need to have realistic economic expectations when undertaking a home based membership website business. A home membership website internet business provides many rewards such as working in the comfort of your own home, avoiding a stressful commute, being your own boss, setting your own hours, no dress code, etc., etc., but anyone that is also expecting instant riches is sadly mistaken. Study the opportunities of a membership website business carefully. If you have the personal traits required to succeed then select the theme that seems to fit your own particular interests or talents. What is a good choice for one person may be a very poor fit for someone else. The common thread that applies to everyone is that you must passionately believe in what you are doing and anything less than total commitment isn’t enough.
Age-Old Question: Is MLM a Viable Membership Model? If you think you want to get involved with MLM, do your research first. The challenge with MLM businesses is that people at the top are most often the winners. The biggest majority of people at the bottom end up spending money and time to get involved and end up losing whatever they put in. Multi-level marketing (MLM) is a marketing and distribution structure. People at the top sell to those below them, who in turn sell to those below them.
The higher up you are in this structure, the more money you can make. Be sure to check with at least a few other people who've entered at your level (who you identify on your own, separate from people the MLM promoter refers you to), and see what they have to say. Find out what they have to say on how - and if it’s possible - to be successful. There are advantages to Multi-level marketing. First, the start up cost is usually very low and that is a big plus to the work-at-home mom (for example) who has limited funds to launch an online business. It is a way to get started in an online business with a very small personal investment and that is a very appealing thing for many people.
Pre-packaged tools and products are provided and that saves a lot of money and relieves the need for warehousing. Also, sales techniques are given and for the newbie to Internet marketing this is a very attractive advantage. There are also disadvantages to Multi-level marketing. Many (if not most) people lose money in MLM activities, because they can’t sell the product as effectively as they thought they could.
And then there is the problem of credibility. It can become an issue, especially if you start treating friends like they’re customers.