Startup Ideas: Overcoming challenges when creating a membership website in WordPress
4th July 2019
Membership websites are generally a safe bet for entrepreneurs. The subscription business model that membership websites use is among the most popular for startups. Recurring revenue from dues allows you to budget more accurately month over month, assuming your retention rate is positive. Investment can run lower as often there isn’t a physical product to manufacture or expensive real estate to lease. In addition, there are many choices in terms of creating membership website functionality without having to reinvent the wheel.
If you’re considering WordPress for your membership website, you’re headed in the right direction. WordPress runs 60% of websites that use content management systems. As free, open source software, WordPress is the most popular platform for developers to build a wide variety of membership plugins. But building and running a membership website isn’t without challenges.
Challenge: Narrowing the field of WordPress membership plugin choices
Solution: Choose which type of membership plugin you need.
Generally membership software falls into two categories — platforms for membership organizations and platforms for content creators. Many plugins will have features that overlap both models, but will be stronger in one area. You should be able to tell which category a plugin falls within by perusing its feature list.
Membership organizations: Trade associations, clubs, chambers of commerce, not-for-profits, societies and professional groups often look for features like membership directories, event registration and invoicing.
Content generators: Subject matter experts, coaches, bloggers and those with educational or course content want to sell and restrict access to valuable content. Content generators will often want features such as dripping content, selling digital downloads and delivering courses online.
Other types: Some entrepreneurs might be selling subscriptions to products that are shipped to members on a regular basis (example: subscription meal kits). Others may be selling subscriptions to online services like dating websites. We aren’t addressing those types of models in this article, but you might look at Subbly if you are interested in selling product subscriptions.
Challenge: You aren’t finding a membership plugin that operates exactly how you envision.
Solution A: Decide if you want to adjust your processes or keep looking; creating custom membership management software isn’t a good idea for many reasons.
Membership tracking and billing is complicated. Coding custom membership software from scratch is slow and costly, especially for someone who hasn’t managed development projects or overseen programmers before. Some of the membership system requirements that you might not even think of may include:
• Accommodating multiple membership levels at billing intervals and prices that likely need to be adjustmentable in the future.
• Providing way for members to login and edit their profile information and credit card numbers.
• Allowing for application fees, late fees and trial memberships.
• Flexibility to handle fixed renewal dates or rolling renewals.
• Compliance with GDPR and other yet-to-be determined privacy laws.
Solution B: If you have your heart set on a certain process, you might consider:
1. Start out with a plugin that most closely matches your needs. Be sure your member data is exportable from this plugin.
2. Once you learn more about how membership software operates and your subscribers’ needs, you will likely have a better idea about what features you need and don’t need.
3. You’ll be able to write a better RFP and document specifications for custom development if you decide you need to go that route.
4. Export your member database into your new platform once it is developed.
Challenge: You really like a function provided by another plugin or provider. Can you continue to use that along with your new membership plugin?
Short answer: Maybe!
Long answer: It depends what lengths you want to go to.
Here are some options:
1. Look at integrations that are offered with your membership plugin. They might integrate with your current provider or one very much like it.
2. If your chosen plugin doesn’t integrate, explore what WordPress can do for you to create an integration. For example, if your plugin creates users in your WordPress database, you might be able to use those users to tie into another system like a BuddyPress forum.
3. You can do things the “old school” way by exporting data to a spreadsheet and importing it into your current provider.
Example: Perhaps you want to keep using MailChimp for email marketing.
All membership software sends out transactional emails like past due notices, but no WordPress membership plugin is as robust as MailChimp with its wide user base. You’ll want to use an email platform that integrates with your new membership platform; this helps you avoid membership database exports and imports to your email marketing system. Maintaining a separate, integrated email platform from WordPress and your membership management software allows you to have more flexibility in the future if you decide to change content management systems or membership plugins. You’ll be able to have a more seamless transition because:
• You can continue to use some email templates you already have created.
• Past messages, statistics, subscriber data and reports will be retained.
• Integration makes sure that new members get added to your email list(s).
• If you use a stand-alone email marketing platform, you reduce the amount of new technology staff will need to learn in the future (if you transition to another plugin down the road that integrates with that email platform).