In this episode we’re going to continue a 3-part series on membership sites. I’m in the middle of building a membership site for launch in a few months and I wanted to give you a behind the scenes look at what it takes to plan, build, and launch a membership site.
In the previous episode we talked about how to plan a membership site. In this episode we’ll talk about building a membership site.
Because this can be a little complicated to visualize, here is a diagram showing the anatomy of my membership site:
In this episode you’ll learn:
- How your content types drive your technical requirements
- What your website foundation needs to support
- The features or plugins you will need
- How to put the pieces together
- Start by making sure your foundation is solid using my WordPress Blog Blueprint and Planner (download below)
- If you are thinking about building your own membership site, start thinking about the content types you might offer and how they would drive your technical requirements
- Join my free membership site: StrongStart Academy Foundation
Links and resources mentioned in this episode:
Transcript DownloadDownload a PDF of the Transcript
Hey everybody, Dave Ziembicki here. Welcome to StrongStart.fm. My mission is to help you design, automate and outsource the technology of your online business. In this episode we’re going to continue a three part series on membership sites. I’m in the middle of building a membership site for launching a few months and I wanted to give you a behind the scenes view of what I’m doing to plan and build my membership site.
In the previous episode we talked about how to plan a membership site, and then in this episode we’re going to talk about building a membership site. All of the different technical components you need to think about. There’s a couple of key topics that we’ll dive into. The first is how your content drives your technical requirements. What your website foundation needs to be able to support to run a membership site, the features or plug-ins that you’re going to need, and how to put all the pieces together. Because this can be a little bit complicated to visualize, I’m going to include a diagram showing the anatomy of a great membership site over in the show notes at StrongStart.fm/026.
As we discussed in the planning episode, memberships can span a wide range of content types and offerings. Some are purely coaching with little or no content, like courses, others are built around a single piece of content, like a flagship course or program. Some memberships might be more community or forum-based and others might be a combination of all of these things. The membership content you’re planning to have really drives the technical choices and the build of your site.
We mentioned during the planning episode that there are a few general paths that you can take for the build. First there are some all in one sort of hosted platforms out there that attempt to meet all of your needs such as having sales funnels and membership sections, the ability to host courses and so on. Then there’s more of a DIY approach where you build your site on WordPress and you choose the different plug-ins and services for the membership and the other features that you want to be able to support.
The trade-off there is pretty much just like anything else in technology. The hosted solutions save you a lot of time on set up. Obviously, most of the architecture and the configuration and all that kind of stuff, most of the choices are already made by whatever that provider is and what their features and functions they decided to offer, so it’ll will save you a lot of time potentially getting up and running, but at the same time, unless that hosting company meets all of your requirements, you run the risk of either missing some critical features that you’re going to need or basically being locked in to an ecosystem and making it more difficult if you determine, “Whoops! Maybe this is the wrong provider and I need to change to something else.
We covered that in some depth in the planning episodes. We’re not to rehash that here. Generally, my recommendation is that if your membership site is going to be the core of your business such as it’s going to be for me, it’s going to be my primary product and, for the most part, my only product, is I’m going to be putting pretty much everything into that. If you’re planning a membership site that supports multiple content types, like courses, and forums and so on, then I think going the WordPress route makes the most sense. It’s going to give you the most amount of flexibility. It’s going to give you the ability to sort of change things as you go. Once your site grows maybe you need to get into slightly more complicated scenarios. It’s just going to give you a lot more of that flexibility.
With that comes a lot more technical requirements that either you’re going to have to do yourself or find a developer or a company that you can outsource these tasks to, and we’ll talk about that a bit as we go through the episode. The key point here is that the content types that you chose during the planning phase, like; do I want to do courses? Do I want to do a forum, and so forth, they really drives the typical requirements for your membership site.
In my case there’s five content types that I’m going to offer in my site and that are driving my technical requirements. The first is I am going to have many intermediate and advanced level online courses that I’m creating. As you know, if you’ve listened to other episodes of this podcast I always include some kind of checklist or worksheet or something like that along with all my blog post and all my podcast episodes. My membership site is going to have a library of checklists and worksheets. Some of them will be available on the free side and a lot of them that are more detailed and advanced are going to be part of the paid membership.
I also do automation guides and samples, so that’s just a different type of document and download. I’m going to have a robust membership forum, and then if you also listen to episode 24 you know that I’m also creating a virtual summit, which is where I want to have a collection of 20 or 30 speakers doing sessions and recording video interviews with me and that’s going to be a core bundle of content that’s going to be available as part of the membership site as well.
Those five things sound relatively simple at first, but, yeah, expect to eventually have dozens of courses, hundreds of checklists, hundreds of these automation recipes and more. It turns into a really large amount of content. Once you have a large amount of content like that, it brings additional requirements like; are people going to find these things and filter them? How am I going to create roadmaps for members based on their needs in order to be able to navigate through all of that different content? It gets a little bit complicated when you think about, “Okay, what is your number two going to look like in this membership site when there’s a ton of content in there like that?” That brings a few challenges and technical requirements of its own.
Let’s take these five content types plus our underlying WordPress foundation and then basically break down how to build the membership site. Having decided on WordPress as the foundation of the membership site, before you do anything else you want to make sure your site is on solid footing. In episode 6, 7, 8 of this podcast we talked in depth about building a foundational WordPress site for your business and online platform. Also, in the show notes for this episode, I’ll include a link to my definitive guide to WordPress for online entrepreneurs as well as my WordPress blog blueprint and planner. These resources detail how to put in place a solid WordPress foundation, things like choosing your hosting types, choosing the base installation of WordPress. Some of the initial plug-ins related to security and backup and things like that. If you don’t have all of those basics in place, you don’t want to really start down the path of this membership site yet because it basically takes a dependency on having that solid WordPress foundation.
When you start thinking about going beyond that foundation and turning your WordPress site into a membership site, there’s a couple of other additional factors that come into play. First, you want to consider your hosting. If you’re on a basic shared hosting plan with something like Bluehost, you’re going to want to consider strongly moving to higher-end hosting. If your site has a lot of traffic already, when you add the membership content and the additional plug-ins that we’re talking about here, it’s going to increase the load on your site and you’re going to want some higher performance hosting. That can mean moving to what’s called a virtual private server where you get a little bit more dedicated capacity and you’re not on a shared server along with other sites or it could be moving to even higher-end solutions like a managed hosting type of scenario or even dedicated servers. It really depends on what you think your traffic and load is going to be on your server once your membership site launches.
Second, before doing anything else to your site, you also want to make sure you take a backup of the entire site and server and then remember to try restoring that backup to a staging server and making sure that you are actually getting a solid backup that you can recover from. You want to have that in place because one of the things as we all know when we deal with WordPress and lots of different plug-ins and things like that is every once in a while there’s a conflict or something like that that has the potential to break your site. When we’re talking about building a membership site there’s going to be a handful plug-ins that we’re going to talk about in this episode that you’re going to be installing lots of different configurations going on. You want to make sure at each step of the way you’re taking a solid backup of your site in case you run into some issues and you need to recover to a previous state.
The third thing you want to do is capture what I call a performance baseline of your site using something like Pingdom or GTMetrix before you move the site to new hosting and after you move the site to new hosting and then each time you add a major component to your site. What those sites let you do is basically type in your homepage or any other page on your site that you want to test the performance of. Hit enter and then what they’re going to do is go try and load that page. As they load the page, they do a capture of every single thing that’s going on behind the scenes. How many images are being downloaded? What do all the file types look like, and a whole bunch of different tasks. You’ve probably seen this before. We’ve talked about it in some of the previous podcast episodes. At the end of it you’ll get a report that says, “This page took 3.2 seconds to load, and then here’s the entire list of everything that was loaded as that page was pulled up and how long each part took to load.
In cases where, let’s say, you have a performance problem and for some reason your page is taking seven seconds to load, you can look at that list of things in order and see where all the big gaps were. It’s like, “Whoa! This image took four seconds to download. Why is that?” Well, it accidentally was uploaded as a 10 MB image or something like that. The idea here is you capture these baselines at each step of the way and that way, if suddenly, or even over time you realize, “Wow! My site got slow. As I’ve been doing all these, last week the homepage loaded in 2.3 seconds and now it’s up to four. What’s going on there?” You’re going to have the data you need to sort of step back in time and see what the issue was. It’s like, “Oh! It was when I turned on that plug-in. That’s the problem. Let me go dive in to that.” My approach at all my content is around helping you quickly learn how to do all these type of stuff yourself, then once you understand the topics, helping you decide when and how to outsource them.
In this particular case I do think it makes sense to go through this process yourself and go through that learning process mainly because this is the core of your business. If you’re committing to a membership site, you’re going to need to know how some of these different components work and how they work together and some of the features and benefits. Once the basic installation type of stuff is done and the initial set up that you really need to control is in place, then indefinitely after that you can outsource the maintenance and any kind of changes that you might need to make to your site so that you don’t have to spend time worrying about those or planning just the ongoing maintenance of the site.
Once your WordPress foundation is solid, next up you need to choose the plug-ins that you’re going to use for the major components and content types of your site. As we all know, WordPress is a powerhouse and over 30% of the web runs on WordPress. The reason is the base platform plus the huge ecosystem of plug-ins that let you make WordPress into almost anything that you can think of.
Again, as we mentioned, the content types and the other requirements that you’ve captured in the planning phase are really going to determine the different types of plug-ins that you need in order to extend WordPress to do what you want it to do in terms of your membership. The key to success is not getting too bogged down in this phase. You can spend months researching, reviewing and testing plug-ins. The thing to remember is it’s the content and community that is going to make or break your membership, not at all the technical bells and whistles.
As I mentioned in the planning phase for the planning and building of your membership site, I highly recommend checking out the Member Site Academy, and that’s over it membersiteacademy.com. Like Morrison and Kelly Willows over there at Member Site Academy, are experts in planning and building membership sites and that paid academy has a of courses and content in their all about this phase of how to plan membership sites and especially how to build. For most of the plug-ins and technical stuff that we’ll talk about in the rest of this episode, they have courses and instructions and things like that for help getting you up and running faster.
I’ve been working with them over the last couple of months directly as part of the academy and one of their coaching programs and it’s really saved me a ton of time on the topics that we’re talking about here. Rather than the going and reviewing, let’s say, 20 different plug-ins, I’m already zoomed in to sort of the top two or three in each of those areas and then deciding among them which ones I’m going to utilize for my site.
The first type of plug that we’re going to talk about is, since we’re building a membership site, is going to be on membership plug-in. What membership plug-ins do is they let you lock down and control access to part of your site so that only your members have access. The remainder of your site like your blog or podcast can remain open to everyone as they would normally be, but if you’re going to have courses or other types of content that you want only to provide access to to your paid members, you’re going to need something that’s going to let you protect those pages and that’s not something that WordPress allows very easily by default.
All of the major membership plug-ins that are out there let you create different tiers or levels of access. You could have a free tier where people need to sign up and be members, but they don’t have to pay for anything. In my case I do have a free tier of my membership site set up where I take all my free downloads and I put them into a resource library so that you don’t have to keep re-opting in every time you might want one of my checklist or guides or something like that. Once you’ve opted in and you’ve joined my membership site or on the free tier, you have access to that library page and any of the free resources that I put inside of that library.
Later this year, once I launched the paid side of my membership site, there’s going to be other content, like the more detailed guides, the step-by-step, the online courses and stuff like that that are all going to be protected content that only the paid members will be able to have access to.
Membership plug-ins usually have a lot of different bells and whistles too. They’re going to have things like credit card integration, the ability to have registration and login pages, things like that to basically give you an end-to-end solution for setting up your membership. Now, depending on your exact flow and your sales funnels and all these types of things, you may be able to do all of that e-commerce and management of paid members right inside your membership plug-in or you may need to get into some more advanced scenarios where you have a dedicated shopping cart, like SamCart or ThriveCart and some other technical bells and whistles to make the end-to-end process, whatever it is that you want.
For the sake of this episode we’ll keep it relatively simple and we’ll assume that when we’re choosing the membership plug-in we’re going to basically be using the built-in e-commerce functionality of that plug-in to manage our paid members. These plug-ins can be pretty complicated to set up. Again, that’s one reason why I’m a fan of joining a program or getting some coaching on that because, like I said, you could really bog down trying to figure all these stuff out yourself. It’s worth getting into either the Member Site Academy or something similar or the period of time where you’re doing this planning and build process at a minimum.
The main factors on deciding which plug-in to choose really come down to the future requirements that you have. Just as an example, somebody’s membership plug-ins really only let you define access tiers and then everything on your site has to be fit into one of those access tiers. Why would that be good? Why would that be bad? It’d be good because it keeps things simple. You could say, “I just have a free tier and a paid tier and everything is going to fall into one of those two categories,” and that’s relatively simple to set up and keep track of.
The flip side though is let’s say you create 10 or 15 online courses and you include those in your paid membership, but you decide you want to offer each of those individual courses for sale at its own price. Maybe your membership is going to be $500 a year and you have 15 courses and you say, “Well, I want to offer those course a la carte at $50 a piece.” Not all the membership plug-ins are going to let you establish each individual course as its own product that you can purchase. That’s something that some of the plug-ins support and the other one don’t and that’s just one example of something that might be unique to what you’re trying to do that’s going to help you determine which of these plug-ins to actually utilize.
Other factors that are going to help you choose between them is the other parts of your platform that the membership plug-in needs to integrate with. A prime example of that is your email service provider. Let’s say you’re using ConvertKit and you want to make sure that all of the plug-ins and choices that you’re selecting for your membership site have need of integration with ConvertKit. That’s going to also help you narrow up the list as well of which ones to use.
As I mentioned, one of the key ways to sort of save some time here is to just start with the top three solutions in each of these different categories and try and choose from one of the top three. It’s only if you have some edge cases or some really unique scenarios that you may have to branch out to the wider ecosystem of the different plug-ins. Some of the top three for this particular category are MemberPress, MemberMouse, Paid Memberships Pro, and there’s a bunch of other ones, but those I think are the three of the most popular ones.
There are many more though. In the space in particular there’s — If you just do a Google search for WordPress membership plug-in, you’re to get back 30, 40, 50 different results of different plug-ins that are out there, but I would try those top couple. They’re popular for a reason. They have the features. They have the support that most people are looking for. In my particular case I chose MemberMouse. That one is a little bit newer than some of the other ones, but it’s very robust. It has all the base membership features that I need, but it also had some interesting features around protecting, not just entire pages of content, but portions of content within a page on your site.
As an example, let’s say a podcast show notes episode page, there’s cases where I want to show an opt-in for the free resource that I’m giving away. I want that to show up in certain cases, but if you’re already a member then I don’t want you to have to click an opt-in box and type in all your information again. I want you to be able to go right over at the resource library because you already get free access to all of that stuff if you’ve joined my free membership tier.
With MemberMouse, they give you some short codes that you can put around different parts of the content on that page and it’ll help you dynamically control what is going to be shown to each visitor depending on whether they’re a member or not and what level of membership access they have. That was a pretty interesting scenario that I wanted to do that not all of the different plug-ins supported. At the end of the day, while most of them were equal on all the other features, MemberMouse had that one, so that was one of the reasons why I chose to go with it.
Once your membership plug-in is selected, then the next thing you want to think about is your online course or learning management plug-in. Learning management systems, or LMS’s, are basically plug-ins that let you create courses which are effectively a structured set of content, like course modules and then lessons within those modules. The difference between using this type of plug-in and just creating posts or pages on a WordPress site is these items, like courses, modules and lessons, are linked together. The plug-in basically creates a hierarchical structure that most people want to have inside of their courses to make it easier for people to navigate the content and to be able to show progression through a course.
A lot of these plug-ins have other features, like quizzes, assignments, certificates and so on and some of them also enable content protection and functionality that’s similar to the membership plug-ins. There can potentially be some overlap in functionality. If your membership content is going to be primarily or exclusively online courses, then you might actually be able to skip having a membership plug-in and just use one of the more advanced LMS plug-ins to control your access.
Again, yeah, I keep saying it, but it comes back to the content types that you’ve decided on for your membership site are what’s going to determine these technical requirements. For me, courses are a key element of my membership site, but they’re not the only element. I am going to use both a membership plug-in, MemberMouse, like we just talked about as well as a learning management plug-in. This category is the same as memberships in terms of — There’s dozens of good LMS plug-ins out there. Choosing is, again, a function of the specific features that you need.
For me I wanted a very solid core structure capability. I did want the ability to track and report on progression through the courses. I needed integration with drip, which is the email service provider in CRM that I utilize. Also, I wanted there to be really good navigation and course outline widgets and things like that just to make building the pages of the courses easier and to give a good experience to my users. I’ve taken tons of online courses, so I have a pretty specific view of what I want the pages to look like and where the navigation elements are and things like that.
Initially, I chose one plug-in called the WP Courseware which is one of the more popular ones for learning management systems. I went through and build a course, but as I went through that process I realized I didn’t really like the user interface elements, such as the course topic list, the lesson list, the buttons to navigate from one to another. Customizing them would have required a fair amount of design work that I didn’t really want to do. During the course of that time, some of the other options out there went through some major upgrades, and in my opinion started to sort of pull ahead in functionality.
I decided to change and now I’m in the middle of implementing LearnDash, which is one of the leading LMS plug-ins for WordPress. I’m still going to have to do some custom design template work mainly to integrate with Beaver Builder and some of the other stuff that I’m using on my site, but those are generally not things that you would have to do on your particular sites that you might be creating minus for a couple of things that are just very specific to the direction that I’m taking my membership site.
Some of the other top choices are — I mentioned LearnDash. There’s also LifterLMS. LearnPress, WP Courseware is obviously still good choice for most people, and then there’s just dozens and dozens after that, but those are some of the top ones that integrate well with some of the different plug-ins that we’re talking about in this episode.
Once you have your course plug-in shows, and the next requirement might be a little bit more specific to my needs, but for me it’s going to be this file and resource library. Building a content library can be fairly complicated as there’s a lot of questions on how do you host the files, how do you control access and so on. You want to do that in a way that’s not going to really bog down your membership site. You don’t generally want to host the download files on your WordPress server. You want to put them somewhere else, like Amazon S3 storage or Dropbox or something like that.
In my case, the content library is a key part of my membership site. As I mentioned, I’m going to have hundreds of different checklists and automation downloads, where each of those I’m building a dedicated page that has a description of the item and the download link and things like that. In the end I’m going to have a collection of hundreds of pages where each is a checklist or an automation recipe, a PDF or some other type of resource.
Ass mentioned, I wanted to also have the ability for my members to search and filter those resources by a number of different dimensions, like categories and topics and just different items that would help you find the exact thing you’re looking for. Basically, what I’m doing is I’m storing all the files on Amazon S3 storage and then I use a plug-in called the S3 Media Maestro plug-in to help me basically generate the access and download links that I can embed in these pages with short codes. This just makes it a lot easier than sort of dealing with having to make custom URLs to access the stuff on S3 storage.
The reason for putting it there is a gets it off your site and it puts some security requirements around it where you can’t just do a direct download link to that site. You have to provide an access key and a bunch of other technical stuff. Instead of having to do that every time for every single time I want a link to a download, I just use the Media Maestro plug-in and that lets me basically just have a short code where you do type the URL and the plug-in takes care of have that Amazon format being able to do the download.
Now, for the basic library page that I have today on the free tier of my membership, I really just use a gallery view widget that comes with my Beaver Builder page builder plug-in and I generate a page that shows all of the pages that I’ve defined in the category of downloads, and it has a little bit of filtering. You can just use WordPress categories and tags to help people filter that view a little bit. I really want a more advanced functionality. Right now I’m moving towards having two additional plug-ins. One is called Advanced Custom Fields and the other is called the WP Facet.
Advanced Custom Fields basically let you add additional fields to your WordPress posts. Let’s say I’m creating a download, a new resource for somebody, I want have a field that maybe has a couple of different categories to it, like is this a checklist, or is this an automation recipe. When I put Advanced Custom Fields on there I can define that as a field, then every one of my posts will have that as an option for me to populate.
The reason you want to put it as maybe an additional field is that, later on, when we talk about WP Facet, that integrates with Advanced Custom Fields and basically lets you have a view where, let’s say, in the middle is a gallery view of all these resources, then on the left hand side there’ll be a bunch of different filters. This is a lot like if you go to like a used car site or something like that or even on Amazon when you’re looking for products that have some kind of configurability to it, I’m looking for products that are in a price range of $100 to $200. I’m looking for the size dimensions of 3 feet by 4 feet. You have those different options on the left-hand side. As you populate those it filters down the search results. That’s really what we’re talking about here in this content library. The combination of those two plug-ins give you the ability to have all those different filtering dimensions that you can take advantage of.
Obviously, that is a relatively complicated set of stuff to set up. You may not require that right away if you’re not going to launch with lots of different content and downloads in your site. If are, that’s potentially something to take a look at. The last major item to consider is the user forum. One of the benefits of a membership model is the ability to provide support for your audience over a longer period of time. Now, forms are great for this and they also let your community help each other, which takes some of the burden off of you and just basically lets you build up back that collaboration and build an online community around whatever the topic area that you’ve chosen.
Now, the first forum sound pretty simple, but when you dig in to it there are a lot of options just like everything else that we’ve talked about so far. The big choice really comes down to; do you use Facebook groups, or anything else that you might choose? With 2 billion people and counting, Facebook obviously should be considered. Facebook groups meet some of the needs of a membership site by providing controlled access and a place for members to collaborate. The ability to hold group events, and then recently the ability to do live streams just to people that are part of your private Facebook group.
Initially, that sounds great. So why would we consider anything else? There are a number of potential reasons. First, any time and for any reason Facebook could decide to change groups to make them be something completely different. They could suddenly say, “We’re not doing them at all anymore,” or you we’re only going to allow them for people that have a thousand members or more. There’re also been suggestions that Facebook is going allow advertisers to run ads inside of groups whether you want them to or not. You may have this sort of ads for any number of different weird things popping up inside of a Facebook group that you manage. It’s just like anything else with Facebook. The downside is you don’t have any control over the platform. They could change direction, decide to emphasize or deemphasize things and that could have a significant impact on your community.
Some of the reasons that I’m a member of tons of Facebook groups, I do like them, but search and threaded conversations are really all that great in Facebook groups either. The thing is users generally prefer Facebook groups because they’re already in Facebook all the time and they just need to click over to groups. They don’t need to go to a different site and log in and remember username and password and so on.
There are a lot of trade-offs here. It’s not a clear-cut decision. What I’ve seen and heard from other membership site owners is also that the quality of conversation is relatively low in Facebook groups. More people participate, but half the comments are just things like, “Hey, nice post,” or two word reactions and just not really an in-depth dialogue.
Then what are some of the other choices? On the flipside you can do a forum that’s either built into your WordPress site or you can use dedicated forum services or software that would run alongside of your site. These generally bring a lot more functionality, threaded conversations, permission to specific topics and categories within the forum, the ability to upload and share files and a bunch of other features that can make for a better user experience.
Now, the downside to your own custom forum is that your members have to login to your site to access them. Many don’t you have a good mobile interface, so you probably get — Actually, I know from talking to some other membership sites, you do get a pretty big drop off in participation rate if you move away from something like Facebook groups and into your own private communities, but the quality of conversation tends to be higher.
What many are doing right now is basically a hybrid approach, where you have a free Facebook group for anyone that opts into your email list or any of your free resources, and then a private forum on your WordPress site for the paying members. Basically, that’s what I’m going to do for my site. I have a free Facebook group now and then I’m also in the middle of implementing a robust forum capability.
As for the forum choice, there’s a lot of different plug-ins out there that I’ll directly integrate with WordPress, things like bbPress and BuddyPress. There’s also forum services that you can subscribe to, such as Discourse. Finally, there is dedicated forum software such as Invision Power, IP Board.
In the end my choice is going to be IP Board because of all the feature set that it has. The fact that it can be installed side-by-side on my WordPress server and then with some configuration it actually allows single sign on. Once somebody is a member of my site, they’ll be able to move back and forth between my site and the forum without having to log in again or remember a different username or password or anything like that.
The choice was fairly easy for me because some of my favorite membership sites, like the Member Site Academy, like Youpreneur Academy and others, use and recommend IP Board. I’ve had a lot of time inside of the software as a user. Yes, I can directly compare the experience there versus in a Facebook group or some of the other platforms out there. I definitely like it, but it is a fairly heavyweight forum. It has a ton of the bells and whistles that you may not initially need, so you may want to look at some of the easier and more simplified plug-ins, like bbPress and BuddyPress that integrate directly with WordPress as the first step, and then only later once you’re making a big commitment to forums, potentially take a look at something that’s more complex, like IP Board.
If you do go the route of IP Board or something similar, one of the hiccups that I ran into was with my WordPress hosting. The way IP Board work works is it’s a separate application. It a PHP application that you have to load on to your server, it has to have a separate database as well for all the content and not all hosting providers give you that type of access to your server to be able to install anything that you want.
In my case, yeah, I host over at Liquid Web. I’m a big fan of them, but the particular category of hosting that I was on really didn’t allow me to add an additional application of my own. What I’m having to do actually as we record this is I’m moving my site over to a different hosting skew that they have that does allow me to do that. It’s just something to think about. It’s specific IP Board because that’s a separate application. Again, if you’re going that route, take a deeper look at your hosting and ask them and make sure that you’re going to be able to install that side-by-side or whether you need to move to a different offering.
With the forum choices made now, we have our membership, our LMS, our library and our forum plug-ins all decided on, now it’s time to put these pieces together. That’s the phase where some of these can get challenging. 90% of the tests are pretty simple and all the pieces have instructions and all the ones that I’ve chosen as I mentioned have courses associated with them in the Member Site Academy that I can refer to. The last 10% of each is where you can get bogged down a bit.
Basically, the build process entails installing all these plug-ins that we’ve talked about here and doing some initial configuration. For your membership plug-in this is going to include setting things up like the membership levels, the protected pages, the products and payment integration and your registration and login pages. You’ll also likely want some kind of member dashboard page that will have links to everything that they have access to for whatever membership tier that they bought into, and that can take a little while to set up.
Then you need to thoroughly test all of these stuff especially those different access levels. You’re going to need to have different users inside a WordPress that you create, representing the different membership levels, and you want to login as those users and make sure that they can only see the content that you want them to see at each particular level.
For your LMS plug-in, you’re going to need to set up at least one online course and go through that whole process. However, you may want to launch your site with more, and we’ll talk about that in the next episode. Figuring out how much content you need to have for launch.
For courses, getting one set up entails setting up the course and module and lesson structure. Customizing the design and look and feel of each of those types of pages and then actually putting in the content, embedding the videos and the texts and the downloads, like transcripts and things like that or whatever else you want to have be part of each of your online courses. That’s the step I’m on as I record this. I’m going through that for the first time with my new choice, LearnDash, and getting all those type of things configured.
As I mentioned, I have a few requirements that are very particular to me in the direction I’m going, so I’ve hired a developer for a couple of days to implement some of that stuff in LearnDah that I don’t have the time to do myself, because I’m trying to keep on this aggressive schedule I have of launching my summit and membership site here in a couple months. For most of you, that’s not going to be necessary, but if you do have some advance requirements, again, you may need to think about hiring some help.
The resource library plug-ins that I mentioned, Advanced Custom Fields and WP Facet, I’ve got those installed and I’ll be configuring those this week. Right now, I have about 40 different PDF downloads and checklists and it’s likely going to be 100 or more by the time I launch. Like I said, I want to make sure that I have a pretty robust library capability there with all the filtering that we mentioned. I’ll be working on that this weekend and we’ll talk about that in a future episode.
Finally, for the forum, as I mentioned, I will be moving my site to a different location. That’s happening sort of as I record this, and as soon as that’s done I’ll be going through the installation process and configuration of IP Board to get the initial forum set up. Once those items are done, pretty much the whole technical platform and stack for my membership site will be in place and at that time it’s just going to be full on content mode of getting everything in there, getting it all configured and tested and getting that ready for launch in a couple of months.
That’s basically the topic that we’re going to cover in the next episode, which is launching a membership site. We’ll talk about what types of content you need to have, do you have to have tons of content or can you launch with less. Do you allow like a beta period for some members or a trial period? We’ll cover all of those different options in week’s episode on how to launch a membership site.
For links to all the resources that I mentioned in this episode, head over to the show notes over at StrongStart.fm/026. Again, because a lot of this is a little bit may be complicated to visualize, I’ll have a free download over there which is a diagram of the anatomy of a membership site. I’ll also have links to all these plug-ins and services that we’ve mentioned in this episode.
With that, I want to thank you for joining me today. If you’ve been enjoying the content here of StrongStart.fm it would greatly help us out if you could give us a quick positive review over on iTunes. My goal is to help as many people as possible reach their goals, so we need to spread the word. I’d also like to encourage you to join my free membership academy, the beginnings of the membership site that we’ve talked about in this episode.
In addition to easy access to every downloaded free resource that I’ve created over the last two years, you also get additional exclusive member content and access to my private Facebook group. You’ll also gain access to the free period of the virtual summit that we’ve discussed over in episode 24. To join us, head over to StrongStart.fm/joinfree.
Thanks, and we’ll see you on the next episode of StrongStart.fm.
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