How to Design a Membership Program

Niche market membership programs can provide a central meeting place for members.
Niche market membership programs can provide a central meeting place for members. (Image: Apple Tree House/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Imagine a steady flow of income coming from the same people month after month. Increase the number of people providing that income and see revenue leap even higher. Membership programs can achieve that kind of income when they provide ongoing value to the customer. A clear, well-thought-out plan can keep the membership program simple to implement and easy to convey to the potential member. Good content and continued benefit to the membership will ensure you retain revenue time after time.

Choose the focus of the membership program and create a business plan around it. Are members paying for access to information and content, supporting a larger mission such as saving whales or funding eduction, or are they paying for training of some type? Decide what content will be provided and what member levels and fees will be available. Decide who the target audience is by identifying their demographics, such as age, gender, income levels and education. Decide what format the membership will be delivered in.

Create a budget for the membership program. Expenses to consider include staff and computer services needed to manage the program, advertising and publicity costs, office supplies and miscellaneous expenses, mailing list acquisition, program maintenance and gifts and freebies for members and prospective members. Costs may increase as membership increases.

Plan the infrastructure and delivery method. Infrastructure refers to the internal process for accepting membership payments, managing member accounts, loading and maintaining content and tracking the progress of the program. The delivery method may be through email, a website with login, strictly through regular mail or a combination of all of these.

Create the content and delivery schedule. Writing content may require hiring writers or assigning the job to an employee. Requests, materials and content will need to follow a schedule in order to arrive in the members' email or account window at the appropriate time. Content can be a mix of blog posts, updates from experts, articles, audio or video scripts, reports or lessons.

Create a membership recruitment campaign. Plan online advertising, direct mail or other campaigns that draw in new members. Potential members must see the value in joining the program.

Plan a maintenance process. Getting new members is only the beginning of a membership program. Retaining and maintaining the membership will keep monthly income flowing into the business. Compelling offers at renewal time or automatic renewal built into the initial sign-up campaign are several ways to retain members. Continuous advertising and brand recognition can also help maintain membership numbers.

Tips & Warnings

  • Membership programs, whether they are designed for on or offline use, may benefit from over-the-counter software programs or may need proprietary software written by a hired programmer.

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