If you’re just getting started with blogging, chances are you’re interested in sharing your expertise with the world. But you’re probably not only interested in “one-way” communication with your readers. No, blogging is about building a community. And at some point, you’re going to realize that the people in your community may want to pay you for your expertise.
At that point, there are many options – videos, ebooks, courses, webinars, etc. One really appealing option is to set up a membership site. This would be a section of your existing website, or something completely new where people would pay to get access to get content, to connect with other people through a forum, or to ask you questions directly.
One of the big benefits of a membership site is that once it’s started, it doesn’t require a lot of “babysitting” from you. The members help each other.
There are some really amazing WordPress plugins out there that can turn your WordPress Site into a fully monetized membership site. These plugins can handle everything from payment processing to split testing, but they are expensive. What if you’re not ready to shell out hundreds of dollars for one of these fully featured plugins?
You can do it for free.
In reality, you can accomplish almost everything that these premium plugins do with a combination of free plugins for WordPress. I’d like to show you how I created my own professional WordPress membership site using entirely free plugins.
To follow this guide, you’ll need a new or existing website running WordPress.
Step 1: WP-Members
I spent a lot of time trying free WordPress membership plugins and most often found myself disappointed. That’s not the case with WP-Members.
This plugin is what really turns your WordPress site into a membership site. What’s great is that it works with your existing theme without any modifications. It creates a registration page, lets you lock specific posts or pages for members only (or the entire site), and does so simply. Best of all, it comes with really good instructions.
Step 2: Setting up a Forum with bbPress
Most membership sites offer some way for members to interact with each other. They allow a smaller subset of your community to connect with each other in a more meaningful way. For this, look no further than BB press. It’s stable, fast and not too hard to setup.
BB press lets you create your own discussion forum inside of your membership site, that lives on its own page. If your membership site is going to be small, you may also consider just using the built in comments feature of WordPress for people to interact. In my paid training program, each lesson is on its own page with the comments turned on. I encourage my students to use the comments to ask questions, so that way everyone can benefit from the answers.
Step 3: eJunkie / Handling Paid Registration
If this is a paid membership site, then you probably would like to prevent people from registering who haven’t paid. Since WP-Members doesn’t integrate with any payment services, you have to rig something up yourself.
Easy. First, set your registration page to be password protected. Then, when someone buys, you just need to point them to the registration page and provide them with the password.
For my site, I use eJunkie to handle payments (free for 30 days, then $5 bucks a month). When someone buys, they receive instructions via email with a link to the registration page as well as the password. I receive an email whenever someone buys AND whenever someone registers, so it’s easy for me to quickly scan through and make sure only people who paid got in. To date, I have not had any issue with people sharing the registration password.
It can be overwhelming to try to build a fully featured membership site all at once. Remember that you can grow your site as your membership grows. Your audience will likely be small at first, so there’s no need to spread them thin across a giant membership site. Concentrate your efforts on the core content on your site, and on encouraging and facilitating interaction between members.
Have you set up a WordPress membership site? Share your favorite membership site tools in the comments!