7 Steps to Build a Membership Site (No Tech Experience Required)

Website & Technology August 02, 2022

Terry Ibele

By Terry Ibele

Starting a membership site can be an incredibly rewarding way to build an online community and generate revenue. 

However, the path to creating one isn’t always clear, especially if you don’t know anything about coding. Of course, you can hire a professional to build the site for you, but most new organizations simply can’t afford this option. 

Luckily, there’s a way to build an effective membership site all on your own with absolutely zero technical experience, and this is what we’ll be covering in today’s post. You can set up your site in a single weekend and start registering new paid members in just a few days! 

If that sounds like a great plan, then let’s dive into how to make it happen! 

Read More: The Complete Guide to Membership Sites + How to Build Your Own

What Is a Membership Site?

A membership site is an online space that offers exclusive content to a community of like-minded people. The content usually revolves around a specific topic that this community is interested in and tends to be educational in nature. 

People have to sign up for membership, which can be free or paid. Once they become a member, they can log in to access educational resources, articles, videos, industry reports, newsletters, and more. Some membership sites also offer an online community space, where members can interact, exchange ideas, and support each other. 

Why Do I Need a Membership Site? 

An effective membership site can offer a number of benefits for both your organization and your members. 

 

For your organization:

 

  • More engaged members: People are much more likely to take advantage of the benefits and resources you offer when they can access them online from anywhere and on their own time. 

  • Better member retention rates: It’s easy for members to see the value that a membership site offers them, so they are much more likely to make use of the benefits and renew their membership when the time comes. 

  • Recurring revenue: more engaged members and better retention rates lead to increased recurring revenue that your organization can rely on. 

 

For your members:

 

  • Exclusive access to resources: in exchange for a membership fee, members get access to high-quality resources that can help them grow personally or professionally, gain new skills, and learn more about something they’re interested in. 

  • Ease and convenience: accessing a membership site is much easier than attending events or signing up for in-person workshops. Plus, members love the convenience of having all of their learning materials and resources organized on a single platform, which they can access from wherever and whenever they want.  

  • A supportive community: members get the chance to network, engage with each other, and build lasting relationships. 

What Is Membership Website Software?

In order to create a successful membership site, you’ll need a membership website software tool, also known as a membership website builder. This is what you’ll use to not only build your site, but also manage your membership in the back end. 

The great thing about membership website software is that it automates most of the administrative tasks related to managing a membership program. 

Using a membership website software is like having an extra staff person who can: 

  • register new members and event attendees

  • process monthly dues, donations, and event payments

  • update member profiles

  • email members with event invites, reminders, and monthly newsletters

  • distribute resources like courses, industry reports, and other materials

  • act as the contact person when members have questions, or need help

Overall, a good membership site software can save you about 20 hours a week or more in administrative work. That’s because it runs like a machine in the background, processing and updating information while you can focus on other tasks, like creating value for your members.

What To Look For in a Membership Site Builder

A great membership site builder should offer the following features: 

 

  • Password locked member-only area

  • Join us page and membership form

  • Events calendar and registration pages

  • Newsletter or blog

  • Member forum

  • Member directory

  • Online store

Read More: How to Choose the Best Membership Site Platform For Your Organization

How Much Does a Membership Site Builder Cost? 

So how much does it cost to create a membership site? This depends largely on the type of solution you choose. 

If you choose a simple website builder, you’ll need to pay for the service, plus a domain fee and a hosting fee (about $10-25/month). Not to mention, most standard website building packages don’t come with the features required to run a membership site, so you’ll probably need to purchase them separately. Overall, expect to pay anywhere from $20 to a few hundred dollars per month. 

If you choose an all-in-one membership management software (MMS), the website builder comes as part of a larger set of tools and integrates seamlessly with a contact database, marketing tools, event management tools, and much more. Plus, there’s no need to worry about purchasing a domain, paying hosting fees, or adding membership plugins. 

For reference, WildApricot can offer all this for free for organizations with less than 50 contacts. From there, plans start at just $43.20/month when billed annually. 

We’ll go over a few of the most popular website building solutions and their prices in a later section

Read More: How to Create a Membership Website Free in Less Than a Day

Membership Sites vs. Subscription Sites: What's the Difference?

The terms membership site and subscription site are often used interchangeably. After all, they both offer gated content in exchange for a recurring fee.

However, there is one key difference between membership sites and subscription sites. 

Subscription sites are purely transactional — subscribers pay a fee in exchange for access to content (think Netflix or Spotify). They rarely get the opportunity to even speak to whoever is providing the content, unless they run into a technical issue. 

Membership sites, on the other hand, are centered around building community. In addition to getting access to content, members can engage with each other, participate in discussions, and even attend events. 

Membership Website vs. Members-Only Website: What's the Difference?

Most membership sites are actually two sites in one: a public membership website and a password protected members-only website. Although you may hear both terms used interchangeably, they are two separate components that each serve a different purpose. 

The public membership site is accessible to anyone. This is where you can tell visitors about your organization, share the benefits of joining, and provide a membership sign-up form. Some organizations also offer a free resource (articles, video, e-book, etc.) as a preview of what’s available in the membership program and to entice people to join.

Once someone joins your membership, they get access to a members-only site. This is where they can get exclusive content, engage in your online community, and receive other membership benefits. 

The Big Question: Are Membership Websites Profitable?

Membership websites can absolutely be profitable, as long as you have:

 

  • A robust membership model, a well thought-out budget, and a detailed business plan

  • A mission that truly serves a need in your community and a strong value proposition for your members

  • A good idea of who your ideal members are and how to reach them (i.e. an effective marketing plan)

  • A plan for how to engage and retain your members by providing them with value and an exceptional member experience

Once you have a strategy that incorporates all of the above, you can generate revenue through things like:

  • Member dues

  • Special events for members and non-members

  • Selling physical and digital products in your online store

  • Donations

  • Sponsorships

7 Steps to Building the Membership Website of Your Dreams (Plus a BONUS!)

Step 1: Plan out Your Membership Model

A membership model dictates how much people pay to join your membership, how often they pay, and what access or benefits they get in return. To create yours, take the following steps:

1. Determine your value. What can you give to your members and how can you serve them in a way that aligns with your mission, vision, and goals?

 

2. Get clear on your offerings. Write down the specifics of what you can offer to your members — resources, educational materials, access to an online community, job board, members directory, merchandise, events, etc.

 

3. Create a membership structure. The best membership models have at least two tiers and many even offer a free tier. You can split yours up by the number of benefits offered, the payment schedule (e.g. monthly vs. annual), or the type of member (e.g. individual, bundle/family, corporate, etc.)

 

4. Finalize your benefits. What level of access and which benefits will members at each membership tier receive? 

 

5. Set your prices. Think about how much you’ll be spending to acquire new members and maintain your programs — your prices should not only cover that, but also generate a return on investment. 

Step 2: Create a Website Task Force — and a Plan

Building and maintaining a membership site involves a lot of moving parts, but you can make the process much easier by creating a detailed plan and sticking to it. 

1. Choose the people in charge. Depending on the size of your membership, you may be able to manage your membership site on your own, but if you have the option, it’s never a bad idea to get help from other people. Assemble a team of fellow staff members or volunteers and identify their areas of expertise — you’ll want to leverage their strengths when assigning roles and specific tasks from your plan. 

 

2. Decide on a budget. How much do you have to spend on your membership site? Include all of your anticipated expenses — for example, your membership site builder, hosting fees (if applicable), marketing tools, operating costs, etc. 

 

3. Create a timeline. Choose a date when you want your membership site to go live. Then work backwards and create a detailed list of tasks you’ll need to complete in order to make that happen. For each task, assign a deadline and the person responsible for completing it. 

 

4. Define your board's involvement. If you’re a nonprofit organization, you likely need to get board approval for software purchases and any other expenses. Before you begin building your membership site, be sure to meet with your board to identify their role in the process and discuss what they can do to help grow your community. 

Step 3: Clean Up Your Database

One of the biggest advantages of a membership site is that it connects with your contact database to automate payments, registrations, and other information.

While it can be a pain, taking an hour or two to clean up your current contact database can save you twice the time afterwards. Organizations that don’t do this end up spending hours removing duplicate entries and double-checking dates and payments after their website and database are connected.

To clean up your contact database, here are some things to look for:

  • Remove duplicate entries

  • Standardize City and State names (ex. “Washington” for all entries, instead of “WA”, “Washington”, “Wshngtn”, etc.)

  • Standardize dates for join date, renewal date, etc.

  • Standardize names for all membership levels.

If you are using Excel, here’s a sample of how your cleaned-up spreadsheet should be laid out.

How to Build a Membership Site 

Step 4: Choose Your Membership Site Builder


While there are many paths you can take to build your site (you can build a website from scratch, hire a freelancer, integrate membership-plugins for Wordpress, etc.), our recommendation is to use membership management software (MMS).


To choose the right MMS for your organization, take the following steps: 


1. Research your options. We discuss a few of the most popular MMS tools in a later section. For a more detailed comparison, be sure to check out our Consumer Guide, which compares the top options for membership management software (we did all the research so you don't have to!). You can download it for free here.


2. Create a shortlist and review. Make a list of your top 3 options and conduct in-depth reviews. Sign up for demos and free trials to get a sense of how the software works and whether or not it’s a good fit for you. If other people in your organization will be using the MMS, make sure they try it out, as well. 

 

3. Make a decision. Choose your top pick and run in by your leadership and/or board of directors to get approval.

 

The #1 Membership Management Software to Use

Here at WildApricot, we're proud to be voted the #1 membership management software on the market and help over 20,000 membership organizations save time and money.

If you'd like to see whether Wild Apricot may be the right choice for your organization, you can start your free, 30-day trial of a premium Wild Apricot account here.

Wild Apricot also has a free basic plan you can use indefinitely. Find more details on our free plan here.

WildApricot Membership Website  

Step 5: The Pages You Need to Attract & Retain Members


Visitors can feel misled or frustrated when web pages don’t reflect their interests or expectations — unfortunately frustrated website visitors leave and don’t come back.


In order to discover what visitors (i.e. potential members) are looking for on your website, we studied hundreds of membership websites and spoke with dozens of membership managers. 


Here are the four most important things your website must have:

1. Your organization’s purpose, mission, and values

Visitors want to know these things to see if they align with their personal values and needs before they will consider becoming a member.


Where to do this:


  • Homepage. This is the first page your website visitors will land on, so think about what information you want them to see right away. Many nonprofits also put their main call to action on this page (like, “Join our organization”), along with news, featured members, upcoming events, and lots of pictures. Here’s an example of a great Homepage from the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone.

  • About Us. This page is where you tell the story of your organization. Most nonprofits include their mission, vision and values on this page, as well as profiles of the founder and the current board members. Here is an example of a great About Us page from the Greater Kendall Business Association.

2. Access to specialized information and resources 

This is your chance to show website visitors how you’re creating value for your industry that can’t be found elsewhere. 


Where to do this:


  • Resources. If part of the value your nonprofit creates is from publishing resources, this is the place to host them. Here is an example of a great resources page from the Medical Library Association.

  • Contact Us. This page includes basic contact information for your organization. You can also choose to include a newsletter signup here that covers the benefits of receiving your monthly membership newsletter.

3. A thriving, engaged community

One of the top reasons people join membership organizations is to be part of a community of like-minded individuals. If you can show this on your website, you’re one step closer to getting a new member online.


Where to do this:

 

  • Members-only area. A members-only section is a great place to host exclusive resources, a forum, or a member directory. Just seeing the "Members-only" tab on your website is enough to entice some potential members to join your organization, knowing they'll get instant access to exclusive benefits and a community of like-minded people. 

  • Events. This page is where you list all your events. The best way to do this is by posting a calendar showing the dates and times of your upcoming events. It’s also a good idea to list some benefits of attending one of your events. Here’s an example from Wayne County Chamber of Commerce — they actually used Wild Apricot’s software to create their website and events page.

4. Easy ways to join and pay online

Many older membership sites ask visitors to download, print, and mail in PDF membership forms. Unfortunately this slows down the registration process and actually creates holes that many potential members slip through (printer problems can stop someone from becoming a member). Offering online registration and payments for events can drastically increase your new member conversions, because the process is simple, quick, and people actually expect it.

 

Where to do this:

 

  • Join Us. This page has all the information a new member might need to know before joining your organization, as well as the online form to join. Including a list of membership benefits can help entice potential new members, just like in this example from the Kapolei Chamber of Commerce.

  • Donate. This page has all the information a potential donor might need to know before donating to your organization, as well as the online form to donate. Here's a complete guide on how to build this page out, and here’s an example of a great donation page from Rotary.

The aforementioned pages will give you a great starting point to building your online presence and attracting new members online. If you’re looking for extra tips on how to design your website like the top nonprofits, check out our full guide on the 22 features the top nonprofit websites have.  

Themes and templates banner 

Step 6: Upload Your Contact Database

There are three main benefits to uploading your contact database into your membership management software, thus connecting them with your website:

  • You can automate dues, payments, and reminders online, saving hours of work each week
  • Member profiles will update instantly once a current member interacts with your website (ex. registering for an event)
  • It’s quicker and easier to communicate with members through automated emails and newsletters

Membership management softwares make it simple to upload your entire membership database in a matter of minutes, especially if your current database is in Excel.

Below is a GIF showing how easy it is to import contacts using WildApricot as an example.

Easiest Membership site

After you import your contacts, the next step is to map out the matching fields from your contact database to WildApricot’s fields.

Step 7: Advertise to the WORLD!

Now that your site is up and running, it’s time to start attracting members! Here are a few ideas for how to promote your membership site:


  • If you have an existing community, let them know about your website launch 

  • Send an email to everyone you know and ask them to help spread the word

  • Offer a special launch discount to your first members

  • Post organic and paid content on social media

  • Host a free virtual event and promote it on social media

  • Offer a free webinar, ebook, or template to attract potential members

  • Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups where your potential members hang out

  • Partner with similar organizations and relevant businesses 

BONUS: Monitor Your Site Performance


You’ve put in a massive amount of work to create and promote your membership site, but the work doesn’t end there. 


In order to see continued growth, it’s absolutely imperative that you monitor your site’s performance and make adjustments to your strategy as necessary. 


You can use tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console to analyze how people are finding your website and how they’re interacting with it. Your website builder will also likely offer analytics you can use to further examine how well your site is working. 


Here are some of the metrics you should be tracking: 


  • New members signs ups

  • Conversion rates from each of your promotional channels

  • New member acquisition rate (how much it costs to get a new member)

  • Member retention rate

  • Churn rate (the rate at which you lose members)

  • Your return on investment and net profits

  • Areas of your website that members are interacting with the most and the least 

  • How much time members are spending in each area of your website 

8 Membership Site Builders to Consider

1. WildApricot

Pricing: Free lite plan; paid plans start at $43.20/month; free 30-day trial


Best for: small nonprofits and membership organizations; membership managers looking for an all-in-one solution to membership management. 

2. MemberClicks

 

Pricing: Available upon request


Best for: growing associations and chambers of commerce; membership managers looking for membership management, learning management, and event management.

3. WordPress

Pricing: Free lite plan; paid plans start at $5/month


Best for: membership managers who are looking for lots of flexibility and customization and are familiar with using plug-ins. 

4. Webflow

Pricing: Free lite plan; paid plans start at $12/month


Best for: web designers who want to create a website without writing code. 

5. Squarespace

Pricing: Plans start at $16/month


Best for: membership managers looking to build a simple website using beautiful templates, but without much customization. 

6. Wix

 

 

Pricing: Free lite plan; paid plans start at $16/month; free 14-day trial


Best for: membership managers looking for a highly customizable, yet easy-to-use, website builder. 

7. Hubspot

 

 

Pricing: Plans start at $45/month


Best for: membership managers and business owners looking to create a website that integrates with customer relationship management (CRM) software. 

8. Weebly

 


Pricing: Free lite plan; paid plans start at $7/month


Best for: membership managers who want to build an online community and focus on blogging or operating an online store. 

 

3 Great Examples of Organizations Using Wild Apricot

Here are three examples of organizations that have built websites using Wild Apricot's website builder. While you can't see how these organizations are managing their membership in the back end, you can see how they've organized their website online. Some highlights to look for when you explore each site include:

  • Simple online membership applications
  • Event calendars
  • Social media integration
  • Member directories
  • Donation pages
  • News, Blog, About Us pages
  • Beautiful pictures of members in slideshows
 

1. Southern Business Women's Network

Membership site Steps 

What We Like: They showcase plenty of event photos on their home page, demonstrating that potential new members would be joining a warm and inviting community. They also have an online store where visitors can purchase a gift membership for a friend. 

 

2. Webb Mountain Discovery Zone

Membership site 

What We Like: Their homepage features everything that potential new members may want to know — FAQs about what they do, a list of upcoming events, and links to their programs. They even have a widget that showcases their latest Facebook posts. 

 

3. Single Parent Provision

Membership site steps 

What We Like: Their homepage is full of important calls to actions, such as “sign up”, “volunteer”, and “donate”. They also have a “Featured Family” section, where they spotlight some of their members and tell their stories.

 

Read More: 25 Solid Membership Website Examples & How to Create Your Own  

 

How Do I Integrate Wild Apricot With My WordPress Site?

Already have a Wordpress site? You can still use Wild Apricot to connect your site to a member database and manage your membership all in one place. Check out this guide for more details on how this can be done. 

 

How to Get Your Free Trial of Wild Apricot

To get started with your free, 30-day trial of Wild Apricot, simply click here.

Membership site Steps

You’ll be taken to a registration page where you can enter your account details. Once you click submit, you’ll activate a free 30-day trial of the paid version of Wild Apricot. This means that you will have all the access to all the functionality that our paid clients receive for 30 days.

If you'd like to see what other options you have as far as website builders go, be sure to check out our top 10 picks in this article

Best of luck with your membership website!

 

Additional Resources:

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!

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