Membership Services: Worth The Effort to Create and Develop?

Filed as Features on August 30, 2009 12:07 pm

Thinking of starting a membership website?

You know, to make a few extra bucks. (Or maybe just to make a difference in the world, I guess.)

As I’ve worked to develop and launch my own social media consulting service, I’ve seen and felt the good and bad of what goes into such a venture. Here are some of my ruminations – feel free to add yours below.

The Good: Membership Websites Can Make Mucho Dinero

That’s a lot of money, for you gringos out there. I have friends who earn a comfortable living through their own membership services, and in every case they either use a blog to drive member signups, watch the blogosphere closely for signs of changing trends and market interests, or both.

If you’re looking at all the different ways of making money through a blog, starting a membership has to be one of the most appealing at least in a few key ways:

  • You can put a lot of eggs in a lot of different baskets. You don’t have to worry about and agonize over the possibility that if that one client flakes out on you, you’ll be up Help-Me Creek without a paddle to your name. Sure, people come and go all the time at a membership site – but if you have several dozen members paying you a little each month, it’s a very different feeling than if you’re a freelancer who relies on two or three big accounts to pay all of your bills, or if you’re a blogger who relies on the almighty page view and you only have the big G–gle to give you the bulk of your traffic (not a great strategy in most cases – been there, been part of a failed venture because of going that route).
  • You can connect more deeply with people. Which means more return business for you than if you only did one-off jobs all the time. Plus there’s that little thing we call “feeling warm and fuzzy inside.”
  • You can differentiate yourself more easily. How many blogs out there have ads on them? Right, 42 billion. Now, how many have their own branded members-only area? Not a whole lot (yet).
  • Not expensive to set up. Okay, unless you have no clue what you’re doing. Been there, done that. :)

The Bad: Members-Only Blogs/Websites Can Drive You Completely Insane

Now this one I can’t say I have personal experience with – at least not to the extent that I’ve had to be locked away or put in a straitjacket. :) But certainly there have many sleepless nights. There have been many sleepless nights.

You’re always thinking about how to retain the members you have. You’re always worrying that you’ll lose too many to a competitor, or perhaps to a recession (*cough* 2008 *cough cough*). You’re always banging your head against a coding issue, or if you’ve got that part down, you’re always looking ravenously for new ways to improve your service for your members, introduce new levels of service, partner with others to enhance the whole offering, etc.

I was thinking of putting a “The Ugly” section down here, but nothing about my own experiences with membership site building has suggested that it’s not worth it, as long as you strive hard to do it the right way and you’re open to constant feedback and opportunities to improve and adapt to the winds of change.

What do you think?

Do you have a membership site? What do you think is the easiest way for a blogger to decide whether to try starting one?

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