Whether it’s for a nonprofit, a business, or a small personal enterprise, starting a membership club can be a really fulfilling move—but it isn’t always easy. From planning your club’s structure to finding potential members, it takes a lot to get the ball rolling on a successful and engaging organization. To help you, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to start a membership club.
How to Start a Membership Club
Though people join membership clubs for different reasons, one of the main factors that draw people in is the exclusivity. A successful membership club is one that can offer its members experiences, content, and/or rewards they won’t find elsewhere. But getting to this point requires a few key steps—so start taking notes.
1. Decide What Kind of Club You Want to Create
The first step in starting a membership club is identifying its purpose and mission. In this phase, you should ask yourself these questions:
- What do I want the club to do for its members?
- What kind of community will the club foster?
- What kinds of exclusive perks and services can I offer to members?
It’s also vital to note that there are dozens of different types of membership clubs, from professional and trade associations to service clubs, hobby clubs, social clubs, advocacy groups, membership-based businesses, and membership sites.
2. Determine How the Organization Will be Funded
An organization can’t operate without funding. Before you proceed with building your club, you need to know how you’ll cover operational costs, pay committee heads, and acquire the services or perks promised to members.
Membership clubs often run on a subscription basis, with membership fees paid on either a monthly or annual basis. You can also enter sponsorship or x-deals with brands to acquire certain goods or services, as well as seek out the help of private donors.
3. Assign Roles and Responsibilities
Even with enough funding, a club with a large membership base might struggle under a one-person operation. If you’re managing something relatively low maintenance like membership sites that offer all their services online, you could probably run your club on your own. But if you’re planning on hosting face-to-face meetings and events, you’d need more people onboard.
Before opening your club up to members, assign key players to the following roles:
- Treasury and funding
- Member management and integration
- Sales and marketing
- Event planning
How to Build Membership
So you know what you have to offer and you have a plan. How do you get people to come on board and join your club?
1. Know Your (Potential) Membership
To run a successful membership club, you need to have a clear idea of who your target audience is. More than identifying their demographics (age, socio-economic background, educational background, gender, etc.), you should learn about what makes them tick. What are their wants, needs, strengths, and weaknesses? Then you can make adjustments to the content of your offerings and to your strategy for dispensing them.
2. Aggregate all the Necessary Information
Your membership club’s website should be a repository for all the information potential and current members would ever need. The club’s history, mission/vision, organizing team, contact details, application form, subscription plans and package inclusion, restrictions, and all necessary information should be readily accessible online.
Members should be able to access more exclusive information such as event calendars, perks and promos, and other members-only content.
3. Plan an Event
If you have the funds, time, and space, launching a free event could attract more members to your club. Aside from providing entertainment and showcasing all the club services, you should provide stations for quick and easy sign-ups. You can provide a registration sheet at the front of house and request for guests’ names and emails (provided they want to be contacted).
Running a Successful Membership Club
Now that you have your first few members, how do you maintain a successful operation?
1. Consistent, Quality Content/Services
Members are the lifeblood of membership clubs. Therefore, member retention should always be at the top of your list of priorities. Offering consistent, quality content or services is the key to retaining and (eventually) growing your membership base.
2. Keep Everyone Up to Date
Whether it’s on changes made to subscription plans, fee increases, new promos, or scheduled site maintenance, it’s important to keep all your members updated. You can keep everyone up to speed through email newsletters, text blasts, social media, or your website’s homepage.
3. Keep an Open Line of Communication with Members
Aside from consistent, quality content and services, one of the best ways to retain members is to make them feel like their experience matters and that their voice is heard. Provide multiple channels for member feedback by sending out monthly survey questionnaires and providing an email address that receives complaints and suggestions.
The Benefits of Running Membership-Based Businesses
If all of this seems like a lot of work to run a membership club, that’s because it is. But the payoff—especially if you’re running a membership or subscription-style business—is definitely worth it.
- Recurring revenue. While you can’t predict how much money you’ll be making with a standard business model, under a membership model, you can instantly tell how much you’ll be making per month. This doesn’t just reduce your anxieties about meeting your targets and covering overhead costs per month, it also reduces your marketing cost.
- Consistent site traffic. This is especially true if you run a membership site—an online community/resource center where members can access exclusive content/services. If you regularly release content to a large following, you’ll be able to make a decent sum from PPCs and pop-up ads alone.
- Instant feedback from customers. Having a direct line of communication to your customers allows you access to data that you otherwise wouldn’t get with a standard business model.
- More opportunities to make money. With the audience that you currently have, you can workshop ideas and market more products or services on your site. You can sell related merchandise or offer a similar product at an additional cost to the pre-existing subscription plans.
- Creating a community. Monetary benefits aside, there’s something beautiful in connecting like-minded folks and helping form life-long bonds between people.
Examples of Membership Clubs
Want to know what a successful membership club looks like? Take a look at these three examples.
- Freelance Writer’s Den. This membership site offers boot camps and coaching for members who want to pursue their careers in freelance writing. The club also offers members access to a job board where job openings are posted by the site admins and a forum where members can discuss problems and insights from past experiences.
- Netflix. Yes, Netflix is a business that operates on a membership model. The streaming service provides unlimited access to their exclusive content for a fixed monthly price.
- The Nature Conservancy. This organization is a “global environmental nonprofit working to create a world where people and nature can thrive”. Members’ donations fund the cause and those who join get a yearly subscription to Nature Conservancy Magazine, an annual calendar, and consistent updates on conservancy news worldwide.
These days, with social media and easy-to-use software, creating a membership club has never been easier! However, that isn’t to say that starting a membership club is a walk in the park. It still requires a great deal of patience, as well as having the right tools at your disposal.
Hopefully, with this solid 10-step plan, you can create a membership club in no time at all.