What is a membership club and why would you want to start one?
Importantly, the idea of a members-only exclusive club is different than the ‘standard’ subscription model that is so prevalent in online businesses today. A membership club is a way to cultivate loyalty among your most dedicated customers and give them access to unique experiences that they can’t get anywhere else.
In other words, it’s a way to turn your superfans into raving evangelists for your brand.
The membership model differs from a subscription in three major ways:
- There are often membership dues or joining fees associated with clubs
- They require an application process to ensure that all the members who are admitted are truly dedicated
- There is a sense of community and connection among members that goes beyond simply being customers of the same brand.
Think about some of the subscriptions you currently have. Do you feel any connection to the other Netflix users or exclusivity in exchange for your monthly fee? Probably not.
On the other hand, if you’re a member of a country club or alumni association, there’s a good chance you’re friends with other members there and feel like you’re part of something bigger. In the subscription world, a great example is SUBTA, The Subscription Business Trade Association.
It’s that kind of atmosphere that online brands want to recreate with membership clubs.
How to start a membership club
Now you understand the concept, but what comes next? Don’t know how to start a club? Here are a few ideas:
Step 1: Define the purpose of your club
Goal setting – the age-old tradition. You can’t start a club without understanding what it is you’re trying to achieve.
Are you looking for,
- Ways to increase customer loyalty?
- A community of superfans who will help promote your brand?
- New ways to monetize your existing customer base?
- Increased referrals from your best customers?
Your answer will help determine what kind of club you create and how you market it to potential members.
Remember that this isn’t just something you create as you go along. It needs to be purposeful from the beginning.
Step 2: Plan out funding
How will a membership club be sustainable? After all, those special perks and benefits don’t come cheap! You’ll have to determine the membership model you want to use.
One way is to charge club members a monthly or annual fee. This can be as low as $5/month or even free if you’re using it as a loyalty program for customers who already spend a lot with your brand.
Another way to fund it is through corporate sponsorships, where businesses sponsor the club in exchange for marketing opportunities.
You could also look into grants or other philanthropy-driven ways to raise funds, especially if your membership club has a social or environmental focus.
As your coffers grow, remember to keep everything organized – it’s worth looking into membership management software that will help with your finances and organize data without issue.
Step 3: Delegate the various roles and responsibilities
Every club has a few key roles that will need to be assigned for it to run smoothly:
- Leadership: Someone who can oversee the club and make sure that it’s achieving its objectives.
- Membership committee: A group to vet applications and handle onboarding of new club members. Depending on the size of the club, this could consist of some combination of your president, vice president, and founding members
- Events: A team to plan and execute engaging activities for new members
- Content: Creators who can generate interesting material related to the club’s purpose and promote club services
You’ll also need to decide whether you want your club to have paid staff or if you’re going to rely on volunteers. Not all of these roles have to be filled from the start, but it’s important to at least have a plan for how they will be handled as membership grows.
Step 4: Launch a club website
If you want people to take your club seriously, you need a website. This is where new members will go to find information about the club, how to join, and what membership benefits they can expect.
Your membership site doesn’t have to be anything fancy – a simple landing page with some basic information will do. But it should be well-designed and easy to navigate, while also facilitating member management behind the scenes. We recommend keeping the backend simple – one platform is easier to use than a range of WordPress membership plugins, for example.
Not sure where to start? There are plenty of resources online that can help you create membership sites for free.
Step 5: Organize critical information
To feel like they are part of a community, members require transparency in the organization, meaning they should know who is running the club, what their goals are, and how to contact them.
You’ll also need to decide on things like membership fees (if any), what kind of benefits club members will receive, and how you will manage applications and admissions.
All of this should be compiled into an easily accessible document – whether that’s a membership site, PDF, or even just a Google Doc – so potential new members can understand what they’re signing up for.
Step 6: Host a meeting
It’s time to launch your club!
This is where you’ll need to do a little bit of legwork to get people interested and invested in what you’re doing.
Start by hosting a meeting (either online or in person, depending on the size and scope of your club) to give potential members more information about what you’re doing and why they should join. This is also a good time to answer any questions they might have.
Make sure you end the meeting with a call to action so people know what the next steps are if they’re interested in joining.
Step 7: Attract new members
Like any organization or group, a club will have member turnover. Your job is to keep the numbers up by attracting new members regularly.
There are a few ways to do this.
- Create an application process: As we mentioned before, one of the key components of a membership club is that it’s exclusive. By making potential members apply to join, you can vet them for their interest and dedication to your brand.
- Offer incentives: What’s in it for them? New members should be enticed to join with the promise of exclusive benefits, like early access to new products, loyalty rewards, and invitations to private events.
- Keep it fresh: To keep attracting new members, you need to keep your club relevant and interesting. That means regularly adding new content, benefits, and experiences for more members to enjoy.
- Promote, promote, promote: Use all of your channels – social media (including subscription industry Facebook groups), email marketing, even good old-fashioned word of mouth – to let your target audience know about your successful club and how they can join.
Once you have them, it’s all about engagement and member retention.. You will have to work to keep your new members happy and excited about being a part of your club, or they will quickly lose interest and move on.
Examples of membership clubs
There are countless examples of membership clubs, both online and offline. Here are a few notable ones to give you an idea of what’s possible.
This major retailer is famous for its membership club, which gives shoppers access to exclusive deals and discounts on a variety of items, from groceries to electronics. To shop at Costco, customers must first sign up for a membership, which costs either $60 or $120 per year.
Even after years of shopping there, it still feels like a special treat every time you flash your membership card and walk through those big automatic doors. Costco has maintained several things that make their stores feel more like family businesses.
Founder Jim Sinegal famously threatened to kill the CEO if he raised hot dog prices from the $1.50 they have been since 1985 (it also comes with a soda). They also don’t require employees to wear uniforms, making them seem like anyone else in the club.
This Canadian golf company has acquired partnerships with over 50 golf courses across the country (and several in the United States), making it the largest owner and operator of golf clubs in Canada. By signing up with any of their clubs, you can pay additional membership fees to be able to play all of the others as well.
ClubLink members get access to exclusive discounts and events, as well as the ability to book tee times up to 90 days in advance – something that non-members can only do 14 days in advance. They also offer a variety of membership tiers, so that golfers of all levels can find a club that’s right for them.
Instead of being limited to local customers like most golf clubs, ClubLink can broadly target prospective members all over North America, knowing that there will be an option somewhere in their vicinity.
One of the most innovative membership clubs in recent years is Patreon, which allows fans to directly support the content creators they love. For a monthly fee, members get access to exclusive content from their favorite online personalities, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process.
While this bears resemblance to any other subscription model – monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is the buzz term in that industry – Patreon differentiates itself by:
- Being laser-focused on content creators
- The sense of community that is cultivated among members
- Members’ ability to directly impact the quality of content produced
Patreon is also notable for its flexibility – creators can offer different tiers of membership, with different benefits, to cater to a wide range of fans. You can unsubscribe anytime you want, and creators also often include a list of supporters on their content or even shout them out by name, which makes current members feel appreciated.
So, if you were wondering how to start a membership club, or if it’s the right path forward for your business, you should have a good idea by now!
By understanding the benefits and key components of membership clubs, you can create one that best suits your goals – whether it’s to cultivate loyalty among customers or give fans a way to directly support your content.
The best part? There are now services like Subbly that can help you set up and manage your membership site with ease, so you can focus on making it the best it can be. Try our 2 week free trial today and start bringing your club to life!