A membership website is a perfect solution to the problem of how to earn an income from your expertise. You can use material you already have on hand, such as videos or blog posts, podcasts, webinars. The list goes on. You simply set up a website that offers access to those materials for a fee, right?
Right! But you may have found that no matter what your area of expertise, actually executing this strategy is not so straightforward. Sitting in front of your computer wondering which website to go to for advice is a daunting task. Googling ‘membership website’ may help but may also result in too many choices, all claiming their platform or development firm is the best way to get started.
The truth is there are only three choices when it comes to building a membership website:
- SaaS Platforms
- Custom development
The good news is you have thousands of themes and designs to choose from, and just about any layout or design can be accomplished using WordPress. However, f you’re not a designer, you may find it overwhelming to choose a theme for your membership website that will work for you and offer the ease of use you are looking for.
More good news. Just about any kind of user experience you want to create on your website can somehow be accomplished in WordPress. However, you will see that while the native WordPress framework offers some features, it doesn’t have advanced features built-in, such as a membership area or a way to achieve an online course. The only way to create a membership or course website with WordPress is by using plugins.
Now, apps and plugins are the web developer’s equivalent to penicillin – a miracle cure! Whatever you want to do, most likely there is a plugin available that will accomplish it, or something close to it. But – you guessed it – there is a downside, mainly that there are too many choices. Before deciding on one, you could spend hours (or days or months) investigating each membership or course plugin. In addition, advanced functionality plugins do not come free, and have to be updated once a month or more, along with the rest of your software. Popular WordPress membership website plugins are MemberPress, WP-Members, and Paid Memberships Pro.
For a typical WordPress website without any paid plugins, you will be paying only for your domain name and a hosting fee with a hosting provider. Domain names can run anywhere from $10/year to $35/year, and hosting can range from $5/month to $40/month for a shared hosting account. Then you will need to purchase a security certificate, ranging from free to $1000/year. Software updates can be an additional cost. You can do this yourself or hire someone to take care of your maintenance. This will run anywhere from $40/month to $500/month.
These costs can add up over a year, and you can easily end up spending more with WordPress than you would on a platform that charges a higher monthly fee.
What is SaaS? SaaS stands for Software as a Service. That means that the company offering the SaaS platform is providing you with a complete service, not just hosting or maintenance. Popular examples of SaaS platforms are Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, Kajabi, Teachable, and SubHub.
Design flexibility is where some SaaS platforms shine, and others fail. Your best bet is a SaaS platform that has been around for a while and keeps up with design trends. You want a design platform that allows different layouts within sections, font and color selection, and a configurable member homepage (the homepage that members who have purchased your subscriptions will land on when they log in).
On the pro side, all these platforms offer various functions, each specializing in a particular area. For example, Squarespace prides itself on design options, Shopify specializes in e-commerce, Teachable is a course platform, and Kajabi and SubHub specialize in membership and subscription websites as well as courses. On the con side, there might be a plugin or function you are specifically looking for that would be reasonably easy to search for in the WordPress plugin repository if you were using WordPress. Shopify has its own add-on repository, but most of the SaaS platforms don’t have an extensive library of plugins created by developers. However, most SaaS platforms, including SubHub, do allow code embeds within your membership website to provide additional services, such as pop-ups, surveys, specialized forms, video, audio, and more.
The monthly hosting fee on most SaaS platforms is going to be a bit higher than a shared hosting account for WordPress. Most platform hosting fees range from $40/month to $300/month (more for enterprise plans). However, the big advantage with these platforms is that in most cases you won’t need additional plugins to accomplish the functionality you want. For example, SubHub offers membership and course features as standard with the platform – everything you need is already included.
Squarespace’s design and gallery features are built-in, although membership functionality is typically provided as an add-on. All the SaaS platforms have one major feature that WordPress doesn’t, and it’s a big cost-savings: no maintenance is required. No theme updates, plugin updates, or WordPress updates to take care of on a regular basis. SSL certificates are also included. SubHub also adds an extra layer of website security through Cloudflare as a standard feature.
You might be thinking, “forget it, too expensive!” That depends.
On the Pro side of custom development, you get to have exactly the functionality you want. Looking for an upsell or cross-sell opportunity at checkout? You could opt to have this custom developed by a programmer. But you could save some costs by using a plugin or embed that will do the job while hiring a developer to install and activate it with the customizations you need. In that case, the developer isn’t creating the plugin from scratch but is implementing an off-the-shelf product.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a completely custom membership website, you can have a developer create the entire site from scratch. And yes, it’s going to be a lot more costly than SaaS or WordPress plugins. This option is really only recommended for seasoned entrepreneurs who can justify the cost and don’t want any hands-on contact with their website backend.
Incidentally, the SubHub platform is one of the few that offers a “hybrid”: SubHub is a SaaS platform, but you also have the option of hiring their development team to create custom functionality specifically for your membership website.
So have you decided which way to go?
To try out WordPress, you’ll need a hosting provider, a domain name, and the ability to install WordPress into your account. Some examples of mainstream hosting providers are GoDaddy, Bluehost, HostGator, HostPapa, Network Solutions.
To try out a SaaS platform, simply click here to open a free trial with SubHub: