WordPress is clearly the dominant platform for today’s webmasters. WordPress holds a 50-60% share of the global CMS market – making it the most popular CMS for seven years running! If you are building a membership website, using WordPress is a pretty sure bet as there is a huge ecosystem of membership plugins to choose from. But having many choices is a problem in itself.

1. Don’t get overwhelmed when picking a membership plugin

While plugin choices are immense, ask a few questions of your client and you should be able to quickly narrow your search parameters.

What type of membership website they need?
Is your client a:

  • Chamber of commerce
  • Content creator like a subject matter expert or coach
  • Charity
  • Church
  • Association
  • Club
  • Gym
  • Online education
  • Nonprofit, or
  • Networking group?

What is the budget?
While some of these business types have specialized plugins that will address their needs, often the more specialized the plugin, the higher the price. That may not work for a smaller organization. Sometimes a more flexible, broader-based membership plugin will offer the right mix of features, support and pricing.

Is the membership website focused more on delivering content on an ongoing basis or on serving a membership group?
This is a key point as most membership plugins fall within these two categories:

  • Plugins for membership organizations such as trade associations, clubs, chambers of commerce, not-for-profits, societies and professional groups often look for features like membership directories, event registration and invoicing.
  • Plugins for content creators such as coaches, experts, bloggers and those with course content will often want features such as dripping content, selling digital downloads and learning management systems.

It’s a good idea to create a comparison matrix in the form of a spreadsheet where you can track your plugin research with columns for:

  • must-have/nice-to-have features,
  • ongoing costs and setup charges, and
  • support types (email, calling and/or forum).

2. Ask process questions up front

Maybe this has happened to you before — you think you have found the perfect WordPress plugin to address a client’s need. You have spent hours doing the research, paid for the plugin and spent an equal amount of time configuring it to your client’s needs. Maybe you even did some CSS styling to customize the interface. Then you show it to the client. All is well until they disclose an additional specification that wasn’t mentioned up front. And this “perfect” plugin is missing that feature. Let’s avoid that scenario! Here are some types of questions to ask, although there certainly are more:

  • What systems does the membership management software need to integrate with, if any? Consider email marketing platforms, accounting systems like Quickbooks or Xero, payment gateways like Authorize.net, Stripe and more. And is there any flexibility on the providers and integrations, or not? Sometimes it is worth making a change.
  • What reports will need to be available to the organization?
  • How is membership billing handled — is it on a fixed or rolling basis?
  • Are trial memberships or new member fees needed?
  • Is membership for a fixed term (e.g. 1 year and it doesn’t repeat) or ongoing?
  • What ways should members be allowed to make payments (checks, credit card, auto-recurring payment, ACH, PayPal, etc.)?
  • Is member invoicing a requirement?
  • What level of security will need to be provided for member only content?
  • What type of information and content should be gathered in the member profiles (images, links, documents, etc.)?
  • If there’s a member directory, what information needs to be presented in it?
  • Is there an approval process for members and how should that work?

3. Don’t let your project come back to haunt you
When you are dealing with membership data, consider how critical that information is to your client. Membership dues are likely the lifeblood of their business or nonprofit. If they lost their membership list or if their membership plugin broke after a WordPress upgrade, they would be understandably alarmed. As developers, we’ve all had that experience where a client comes back and says, “This thing stopped working.” It’s certainly one of the most dreaded calls or emails to receive. Now, instead of building something new and exciting and keeping your day on track, you enter the troubleshooting zone. You wonder:

  • If you’re going to be able to repair the problem.
  • Will restoring a backup make everything work again?
  • How long it is it going to take to figure everything out?
  • Will your client readily accept a bill for whatever amount of time it takes to fix something they think should just work seamlessly?

Save yourself from this scenario by choosing a SaaS-based WordPress membership plugin. SaaS (Software as a Service) plugins provide an interface between a website and a service such as Google maps. In the case of a membership plugin that is SaaS-based, often the member database is not stored on your WordPress server. This is key because it will save you if for some reason the website goes down. The data will continue to be safe on the SaaS servers. The price of this peace of mind is typically an ongoing monthly or annual fee paid directly by your client.  Even better, the plugin might offer free support and training that will hopefully keep you out of the support loop.

If you have any other mistakes fellow webmasters should know about when designing a membership website, let us know in the comments!

Amy Hufford is a Technologist at MembershipWorks. With 20 years in the membership software space, Amy has worked with more than 15 email marketing systems and more than 10 membership management platforms.

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    These were good tips. I am considering updating my websites of eshcs.com and esacademy-usa.com to become membership websites. I’m going to keep these tips in mind. Thank you for sharing.

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