Online member and subscription based businesses are growing. With growth comes a major opportunity for freelancers. Both developers and non-developers can expand their customer base and provide more services for their existing customers with memberships.
This guide explores how you can grow your freelance or small agency business with a specialty in building, maintaining, and marketing membership and subscription e-commerce websites.
Why should you specialize in memberships?
Modern membership site entrepreneurs share a set of common characteristics. If you understand these customers, you can make more money by selling the specific services they are looking for.
Later in this guide I will dive into the development knowledge and business skills you need to land a membership site project. First, you need to ask yourself if specializing is the right choice for you.
You already have a “type” of website you do well.
If you’ve been freelancing for some time, you may have naturally moved into a specific area of website build. For example, you may be a specialist in websites for local restaurants or you may have a deep understanding and skillset that supports the non-profit client.
Even your existing clients can benefit from considering a membership component in their site. Take a local restaurant, for example. They could use a membership area for customer loyalty or private coupons by email. An NPO can use membership to collect recurring donations and maintain a list of supporters and benefactors.
E-commerce clients are notoriously difficult. No thanks.
Many developers are convinced that the e-commerce customer will be too demanding and troublesome to please. In my own experience, past e-commerce clients have blamed the technology for their low sales. Worse yet, the operators were completely unprepared for the aspects of e-commerce they had to maintain, such as shipping, taxes, and product returns.
While this may be the case, e-commerce can easily prove the value of a website investment. When a site is making money, in this case membership revenue, your client is more inclined to spending money on a developer for continued development and maintenance. This is much harder to validate for a static website.
- eCommerce clients are difficult. BUT you can easily prove value.
- The market of online e-commerce and membership businesses are growing like crazy.
- People are happy to spend money on a website that makes them money.
Characteristics of Possible Membership Customers
There are all sorts of entrepreneur, associations, organizations, and subject matter experts who want to start a membership site. If you have already built a website for a client, chances are they might need some membership features, too. Take a look at your personal and professional networks. With a little creativity, even the most unconventional businesses could benefit from starting a membership site.
We are not advising you to force a membership site on all of your clients. Rather, you should focus on the clients that would see value from a membership site. If it makes sense, pitch the possibilities of recurring income, adding value to their customers, and transforming their in-person business to a virtual one.
The characteristics below will help identify the kind of people who benefit from starting a membership site. Have a look at the list below and try to match some of these characteristics with people in your network.
- People who have expertise in a specific topic.
- Customers who may or may not have an audience. If they already do, great. If not, that’s an added opportunity to help them build one.
- Someone who is comfortable with technology, but could use some help getting set up.
- Customers with a unique product offering or service.
- Likeable and presentable people.
- In-person business owners looking to move their business online.
- Natural content creators.
Already a few people in your network or client list may be coming to mind. You might be surprised with the number of people close to you who would benefit from your services.
Learn the Basics of Paid Memberships Pro
If you are going to become a freelance membership site developer you need to become very familiar with your tools. We are going to assume that you are already familiar with WordPress. So, the obvious next step is to find a membership plugin that can offer you versatility, reliability, and the features you need to build successful membership sites for your customers.
We recommend that you use Paid Memberships Pro, the most complete WordPress Membership Plugin and the plugin we have developed.
Paid Memberships Pro has been powering thousands of membership sites for over 9 years. We deeply understand the online business of memberships and subscriptions. Our plugin is fully open source and highly extendable for developers. You don’t have to be an advanced developer to get started. Begin by learning the basics of Paid Memberships Pro and build out your skillset over time.
Learn the Basics of Building Membership Sites
- Complete an initial setup of Paid Memberships Pro. You can set the plugin up in a staging site or on a local development server. Following our initial setup docs will show you how to install, activate, and configure the basic settings of the plugin.
- Learn how to protect content. PMPro includes a variety of ways to protect content in a WordPress site. Membership sites often require some combination of each of these protection methods:
- Set up a payment gateway: We recommend using Stripe as the site’s primary gateway alongside the Add PayPal Express Add On. This combination of gateways is the most direct to set up and the most reliable to maintain.
- Learn how to add custom profile fields to membership checkout or member profiles using the user fields featured in PMPro. Create fields using the settings page or code more complex user fields using the User Fields API. This feature allows you to build application forms, registration forms, and additional profile forms for logged-in members. You can add most HTML form field types, from simple text input to file uploads and more.
- Browse our library of other Add Ons. We have an extensive collection of free and premium licensed Add Ons that offer additional features for membership sites. These Add Ons are, like our core plugin, all open source and all available on GitHub.
Explore Advanced Development Capabilities
Once you have learned the basics of Paid Memberships Pro you are ready to go deeper. In our customer support area, we see a huge range of interesting and challenging requests from members. To succeed in building complex membership sites you need to deeply learn the Paid Memberships Pro platform.
Developers love that PMPro is fully Open Source and unbelievably customizable. The next set of resources will help you to become more equipped to offer custom membership solutions for your customers.
Advanced Membership Site Development
- Explore our library of action and filter hooks. These hooks allow you to further customize site functionality and appearance. You can use hook to integrate with other plugins or third party platforms. Customizations made via action and filter hooks work alongside the core plugin and Add Ons. This ensures that you can always update the core plugin as new security updates or features are released.
- Learn how to set up IPN for the PayPal gateways and webhooks for the Stripe gateway. We get a fair number of support requests related to debugging IPN/webhook activity, so you should also learn how to debug a WordPress website.
- Explore advanced caching techniques for membership sites. Learn the most common issues that crop up, and how to safely cache content in protected sites.
- Check out the WooCommerce Integration Add On. This plugin is for sites that want to use WooCommerce for membership checkout or offer members-only product discounts. It is a popular plugin many sites use alongside Paid Memberships Pro.
Opportunities for Non-Developer Freelancers
Not a developer? Haven’t built a WordPress website before? No problem.
Running a large scale membership business is a lot of work. The development to launch the membership site is just the tip of the iceberg. Members demand continued value for the life of their membership. Blog posts need to be written. Social Media accounts need to be managed. Members need their questions answered.
Membership site management is time consuming. There is a huge opportunity for non-developers to offer services for membership sites, too. Below is a short list of the more “non-developer” roles needed to grow and maintain any online membership site.
- Content Creation and Course Creation
- Email Marketing and “List” Building
- Social Media Management
- Accounting Services
- Legal Assistance
- Membership Management and Member Support
Live Stream Presentation
We recently recorded a live stream about freelancing and membership site development. Below is a recording of that presentation as well as the slides used in the video. I hope that this article has got you thinking about ways to serve the membership site market.