membership site

Making the Best Decision for Your Membership Site Platform

    Are you considering creating a membership site? Membership sites are an amazing way to build a relationship with your audience (with free content or paid programs) but so many times when we think of using this type of technology in our business, we’re overwhelmed with options.

    The number one thing people get stuck on is whether to build a custom, self-hosted site or use a hosted platform. As with any other type of tech, there are advantages and disadvantages to either platform.

    Let’s take a look at both options to help you make an informed decision.

    The Advantages of a Self-Hosted Membership Site

    When we’re looking at a self-hosted membership site, the main benefits are that you have more control over design, you have complete control over pricing, and you can determine exactly what percentage or non-percentage affiliates get.

    When it comes to the design aspects, you can move things around — especially if you have a platform like Zippy Courses or Thrive Architect  — because you’re not limited to just Zippy’s course design. You can use Thrive Architect to design whatever you want. You can also use Thrive Apprentice and get a look and feel that’s similar to a Teachable or hosted platform and then choose another platform that activates the membership portion itself, like MemberPress or another only restricted content or something like that plug-in.

    The biggest thing with choosing to go with self-hosted is you’re going to have to think of the other tech pieces that you’ll need to execute.

    When considering the price, don't forget the maintenance required. Click To Tweet

    Going with a Hosted Membership Site

    A hosted platform, like Thinkific, might charge you a small fee for things like payment processing, but with so much competition out there, the plans and prices are always changing. Where there used to be small transactional fees, they’re now starting to waive those because they want people to utilize their products. These companies know that if you can get people on board, then they’ll start to see some benefits and be more likely to upgrade — which is why you want to employ the login strategy, to begin with.

    With self-hosted, you also have to consider whatever fee that might be incurred with hosting your videos. So, while you don’t have to pay for hosting and uploading any content for storage or anything on a Thinkific or MemberVault, you’ll have to consider that when you’re uploading your content to your own site.

    For example, if you’re going use a Zippy Courses plug-in and you want to embed a video, you’re going to have to host that video somewhere. Vimeo is a perfect option because you’ll need to have something that can house and store a lot of gigabytes without it weighing down your website. You can also control privacy, along with download capability, and other things.

    Before You Decide: Do Your Homework

    It’s really important to create a plan with all the tools, like plugins, that you’re going to need if you choose to go with a self-hosted membership site.

    Let’s say you decide to go with MemberPress. You’ll have your plug-in fee, which is a one-time annual charge, plus your hosting costs. Even though you might be using a sub-domain, you want to take a percentage because you might have to move up to a bigger plan depending on how much you’ve got and how much traffic you get to the site. (That said, self-hosted sites are typically less expensive than hosted platforms.)

    You’re also going to have to consider the flexibility and growth of the platform. If you have a lot of web traffic, and you’re going to need to update your security, you need to decide if you’re going to do that maintenance or if you’re going to have to hire someone to do that maintenance.

    Always Think Long-Term

    Next, you need to consider the long-term support of your website. Who’s going to maintain your membership site?

    With a hosted platform, you don’t have to worry about updates and maintenance to the site. All you have to worry about is uploading content. This means that while hosted platforms might at first glance appear to be more expensive, they do take out some of the long-term costs and potential complexity that’s typically involved with keeping up with your membership site.

    When considering your options, keep in mind that you’ll have more flexibility with a self-hosted membership site than with a hosted platform. You’ll want to test drive any of the ones you’re considering as it’s all about your personal preferences and the experience you want to offer your members.

    Even in the short-term, you must consider long-term. Click To Tweet

    Decisions, Decisions

    One Final Consideration: Managing Your Affiliates (or Any Referral Source)

    If you’re planning on having an affiliate program, brand ambassadorship, or referral program for your course, program, or service, you’ll need a way to manage everything that’s included (and everyone). From tracking links to commissions to promotional digital assets — production and management can become tricky. You could make things even harder on yourself, depending on the platform you have, too!

    With hosted platforms, they usually give you the tools needed to create referral links and the ability to track the sales and commissions of your referrers.

    Hosted platforms, like Thinkific, provide built-in affiliate setups that require minimal effort to establish. The built-in system allows for automatic production of links, commission tracking, etc.

    If you decided to use a self-hosted platform, you’ll need an affiliate plugin to have this functionality. Many times, with a self-hosted option, you can customize your referral experience to provide additional resources.

    A popular plug-in, Affiliate WP, can be added to your membership portal to generate affiliate links and track commissions. It also gives you an opportunity to have a member’s area for affiliates that includes different resources, like email scripts, banner ads, and different visual graphics files that your affiliates could use quickly as swipe files.

    There are even options where your affiliate, joint venture partners, or referral sources can be set up using your shopping cart, like Thrive Cart. Thrive Cart offers simplified ways of managing all your payment options and products in one place and makes it easy to create loyal customers or clients into referral sources.

    No matter if you choose to go with a self-hosted or hosted membership platform, it all comes down to one thing: what works best for you and your business. By mapping out your needs, doing your research, and taking the time to test some options, you’ll be well set up to make the right decision for everyone involved.

    About the Author Lysa Greer

    Lysa is a digital producer who helps service-based entrepreneurs fulfill their business vision through creative ideation, technical solutions, and relationship marketing. With 19 years of diverse experience in broadcast and digital media, she provides a wide range of opportunities to work with a variety of clients and teams, both virtually and in-person.

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