Memberships are an increasingly popular online business model. This is largely down to the attractiveness of recurring revenue coming in month after month. You only need to make the sale once to get multiple purchases.
Of course, you need to ensure your content is up to scratch and valuable to your members to ensure they keep their subscription active.
If a membership site appeals to you, it’s possible to add one to your WordPress site for free.
Paid Memberships Pro (https://wordpress.org/plugins/paid-memberships-pro/) is completely free in its base form and also comes with some 19 free addons that extend the functionality further. You can set up unlimited membership levels with flexible pricing and a wide range of options for restricting access to content. There are five payment gateways to choose from, including PayPal and Stripe, the latter of which may be attractive when you’re starting out.
I’ll suggest an alternative if you’re looking for something really simple and easy to get going with and don’t want a load of bells and whistles. Simple Membership (Simple Membership Plugin – Membership Plugin (simple-membership-plugin.com) is a free plugin that will quickly get you started with a simple membership site.
If you have to start for free, I suggest you look at both the free suggestions above.
One of the biggest issues facing owners of membership sites is member churn, losing members who don’t pay their subscription for their next membership period. That may happen because the member has actively decided not to renew, but often it’s simply because their credit card failed for some reason.
The quickest way most membership owners can increase their ongoing revenue is to follow up failed credit card payments to try and get a successful payment. This process is known as dunning. Stripe includes an automated Smart Retries function that will reattempt to take a failed payment up to four more times. Additionally you can configure emails to notify members of their next upcoming subscription payment and/or to let them know their card is about to expire.
Those features make Stripe particularly attractive for a membership’s recurring payments. However, you could take this further by using a more full featured service like https://stunning.co/. This works with your Stripe account but supercharges the features for reducing failed payments. At this time, they offer a free service for memberships with less than 250 paying members, so there’s nothing to stop you giving it a try.
Paid Memberships Pro also has a trick up its sleeve for later. There’s a suite of more than 60 paid for addons that extend the free plugin further. You can see them all at https://www.paidmembershipspro.com/add-on-category/plus/ though note they’re not available individually, you have to purchase a subscription that gives you access to all the addons.
Potentially this may be the ideal solution as you can start for free and then upgrade when the site is generating revenue.
However, I would recommend you take a look at other plugins before committing your membership to a specific paid for plugin. It may even make sense to pay for a membership plugin from the off as migrating from one may not be easy. In particular, transferring subscription payments may not be possible or could require a developer to handle it.
There are plenty of membership plugins to choose from, so to keep things simple, check out Chris Lema’s site. Chris Lema is a WordPress authority and membership expert who’s written extensively about membership plugins. To help you get a quick overview of some of the other options available to you, at least take a look at this article –https://chrislema.com/best-wordpress-membership-plugin/. As well as highlighting five plugins, it may also help you to get clear about what you need form a membership plugin.
I’ll throw one further idea into the mix with LifterLMS (https://lifterlms.com/), which was initially designed for courses, but has expanded to handling memberships too.
Don’t overthink this and let that stop you getting started though. Even if you have difficulties switching between plugins, it’s better to lose a few members because you decide to change platform later than not to have any members because you can’t decide which platform will be best in the long run.
How to add community to your membership
Building a community that brings your members together can be a powerful tool in reducing churn. It can also relieve some pressure from you as members can help each other, rather than expecting you to answer every question.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a popular and free forum plugin for WordPress called BBPress (https://bbpress.org/). This makes it easy to introduce a simple community space on your site.
The forum can be broken down into boards that help to group different types of discussion. This can make it very user friendly as different threads on common themes can be easily found by users.
If you want to go bigger on community, BuddyPress (https://buddypress.org/) is another free plugin that can make your WordPress more like a social network. This can also be paired with BBPress to get the best of both worlds.
While looking at all the features of BuddyPress can quickly get you excited about the possibilities, if you want to get started quickly, BBPress is probably the better solution of the two. It is both simpler to setup and for users to get used to. You can always integrate BuddyPress later to extend the features.
However it may be that you find you don’t have the community engagement to justify the time investment required to properly integrate BuddyPress. Building a strong and enthusiastic community on your site isn’t easy and it’s the minority who have real success with it.
That’s why many membership owners look at existing platforms like Facebook Groups or LinkedIn Groups to cover their needs. These can hugely simplify getting a community started and because many members will already be spending a lot of time on the platforms, it can be easier to get them engaging with your group.
The positives are offset by some downsides. Perhaps the biggest is that you don’t own the platform. A Facebook Group may seem the perfect solution today, but Facebook could make changes at any time that effectively destroy your community.
Also keeping content under control can be more difficult and in busy groups, interesting posts can quickly get buried, never achieving the engagement they probably deserve.
If you’re a natural cheerleader who can inspire excitement in others and keep the conversation going, building a community on your own site could turn out to be a valuable decision.
For those who are less outgoing, building a community on your own site could be a constant uphill struggle and using a platform like Facebook may be a better choice. At least initially, you can always move to your own platform later when you’re more confident about achieving engagement from your members.
How to prevent users sharing login details
A potential problem membership sites can face is the sharing of login details. So one person signs up and pays for a membership account and then shares their login details with one or more other people.
Despite the heading, there aren’t any straightforward ways to prevent login details being shared. For that reason, you might be best off not to spend time worrying about it and accept that a small subset will share. You can interfere with users sharing login details though, if you’re not happy to overlook it.
WP Bouncer (https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-bouncer/) is a free plugin designed for this purpose. It will only allow one active user on your site at a time using one set of login details.
That means that if Naughty User #1 is logged in and Naughty User #2 logs in with the same details, Naughty User #1 is logged out. Assuming Naughty User #1 logs back in, Naughty User #2 will be logged out. They then find themselves in this continuing cycle of having to keep logging in.
This may not stop all cases of sharing, such as among friends or employees of a business, but it should make it less attractive for someone to share their details randomly.
Of course, you’ll really want to know if any of your users’ accounts are showing any activity like that cycle of logins, most likely from different locations. That will give you the option to take action against or at least warn users who appear to be sharing credentials.
User Login History (https://wordpress.org/plugins/user-login-history/) is a plugin that keeps a record of user logins.
When you click on the User Login History menu item, you’ll see a list of all the logins made by users of your site. You can filter this list by user ID or user name to focus on a specific user’s activity.
To get a user’s ID, search for them in the Users screen and then click the Edit link to open a screen showing all their details. Look in the address bar for the text user_id=. The number that appears immediately after that is the ID of the user.
Back in the User Login History list of logins, the column of interest to you is labeled IP Address. Every one who connects to the internet has an IP address. Most of us have what is called a dynamic IP address. That means our IP address isn’t always the same.
To see the IP address you’re using right now, go to Google and search for my ip address. You should see Google displays your public IP address.
If two or more users are logging into the same account, assuming they’re at different locations, they should have different IP addresses. If you see a user logging in multiple times in a short period of time with different IP addresses, that may indicate shared credentials. Scroll the logins table horizontally to view the times each login occurred.
There are some caveats to bear in mind. In some cases, a users’ IP address can change every time they view a new page, so it’s possible the same user could appear in the list with different IP addresses even though it was the same user logging in from the same location.
Also if two users connect to the internet through the same Virtual Private Network (VPN), they may have the same IP address even if they were in different countries. That may also apply if two people were connecting from the same physical location.
You’ll generally only turn to this if you see patterns, such as a user repeatedly logging in with a different address. Note there is other information displayed, such as the Operating System and User Agent. If you saw a cycle of logins with the same IP address, but one or both of these varied, that would suggest two or more different devices were logging in to an account. That could be the case with employees from the same office sharing a single account.
In the case of employees of a company sharing login credentials, you could look at offering different account types allowing multiple users. That’s attractive to you as you earn more from those accounts, while it’s attractive for businesses as they will usually pay less per user.
If you use Paid Memberships Pro and have bought the Plus upgrade, you will have access to the Sponsored/Group Members addon that can handle this for you.
Setting up an affiliate scheme can be a great way to put your membership site in front of people when you don’t have an audience of your own.
This is how affiliate systems work. In return for a share of the profits from sales they generate, other people will promote your products. This could be other website owners promoting to their users or individuals promoting to family and friends.
Affiliates Manager (https://wordpress.org/plugins/affiliates-manager/) is a free plugin that lets you create an affiliate system on your WordPress site. This is actually from the same developers as Simple Membership which I mentioned earlier in this article.
This is quite flexible in the free form, allowing you to specify different commission rates per affiliate or use a global rate. If you want to apply different commission rates on a product by product basis, you’ll need to pay for a premium addon.