Setting Up a Paid Membership Site

Hello all,

I'm in need of some general advice on how to set up my Wordpress Multiste website. Let me preface this by saying that I am a COMPLETE newbee at coding and the like.

I want to create a magazine/community website for women making major life changes. There will be a free level and three paid levels - Standard, Premiere and Elite. The paid levels allow members to create blogs, participate in the Buddypress community, and access member-only content. Paid memberships will also give members access to upgrades such as premium themes, plugins, etc. The paid membership schema I'd like to use is a set price for monthly billing with a three-month minimum for membership.

All that being said, I was wondering
what is the best way to make this happen. I currently have Membership and Pro Sites installed but I'm not sure how to configure them to make them do what I want them to do. Any advise, suggestions, input would be GREATLY appreciated. Thanks so much for great plugins and a great site!

  • aecnu
    • WP Unicorn

    Greetings cindye,

    Thank you for this great description of the challenges you are facing trying to set up your own Membership site.

    You are now officially stepped into the web development arena and are a web developer.

    I must admit that your development idea is of a skill level a lot higher then what you have represented yourself to have, and the only way to get that skill level higher is by doing it of course.

    Throughout this process backup often before every major change and after every successful change, this will help you to quickly overcome the inevitable mistakes that even the most seasoned of us developers make.

    You may want to employ two things for doing this, one is the backup which should be available in the control panel of your hosting account, and the other would be the Snapshot plugin which I would personally use much more often in between developing session.

    The way I would start to develop this would be to start with one plugin at a time, in this case Membership, and going through every step and covering every screen configuring the plugin to your desire and familiarizing yourself with its individual settings.

    Once you have completed it, go through them a second time checking out the settings again.

    When you think you have got everything right, use a different browser to go through the processes of your site tweaking the settings in the original browser until you get the desired effect.

    Due to being a novice do not worry that the look may not be perfect, but concentrate more on the perfection of the functionality instead, the look can always be tweaked later and the functionality is much more important in my book.

    An ugly site that functions well is still worth more then a beautiful site that does not function or functions incorrectly.

    For your own sanity since you are a new developer, I do recommend staying away from the framework themes like Thesis, Genesis, and Salutations and theme forest themes which in the case of theme forest themes, not that they are not good, but it is a hit and miss on if they play nice with other peoples products i.e. plugins

    I hope these words of wisdom help you get off to a smoother developing scenario and recovery of the inevitable mistakes that you will experience, that we all experience.

    Thank you for being a WPMU Dev Member!

    Cheers, Joe

  • cindye
    • WPMU DEV Initiate

    Yikes! I'm not sure I want to enter the realm of developers! I need to take a basic wordpress class first! Just a thought but in addition to the manuals, you guys should also offer different online courses/webinars (paid, of course) to help community members navigate the complex and ever-changing Wordpress world. I know that I'd pay good money to get expert guidance and upgrade my skill-set. Thanks so much and I'll keep you updated on my progress.


  • Paul Foster Marketing
    • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    Hi @cindye,

    I'm new here too, and what a great place this is.

    I have a lot of WordPress experience and of building membership sites. In fact it's my favourite internet business model.

    Since this will be what I will assume to be your first membership site, and indeed with you being reasonably new to WordPress to, the first thing I wiil do is use that wonderful acronym, KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid!

    You have a great idea there, and I want you to keep that in mind as the big picture, the goal, the motivation, but in getting there you will need focus on the little pieces of the puzzle that build up that big picture.

    Imagine your big picture puzzle is a collection of magazine covers.

    If yo focus on completing the puzzle buy completely one magazine cover picture at a time, then they will quickly build and you will get a sense of achievement. If you keep looking at the big picture trying to put all the pieces together, you will soon lose concentration, focus, and desire.

    And with such a brilliant idea for a membership site, that would really be a shame.

    So the first magazine cover picture to create will be a basic site, with basic content for your audience (the sites vistors, who you will entice to register as free subscribers)

    Install the support videos plugin and you'll learn quickly about wordpress and how to use to it.

    Start with a basic theme, I'd go with one from these guys to be honest. I could recomend so other good themes for memberships, but to be honest, I'm already switching out themes to what's here, so you won't go wrong.

    Now start adding some of that content. Don't get too booged down in it yet, though, just create some posts with topic specific titles, find a few photos on the web to use as your featured image, and then grab yourself some Lorem Ipsum - that funny text that looks like you've spent ages writing an article, but on closer inspection it's actually latin!

    Put those posts in either one of three categories, that you are going to create, call the categories, 'public', 'free', 'standard'.

    When you have a half a dozen or so posts in each category and the ubiquitous 'about us' page, then it's time to fire up Membership....

    And at this stage I need to go grab breakfast, I've been here all night playing with all these amazing plugins, and need to eat before I keel over and fall asleep!

    Part Two of this post coming up later! :smiley:

  • xaviemirmon
    • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

    @PAFoster what a great explanation. @cindye to minimize some confusion for you I might suggest you read up I found very helpful when learning about multisite in's and out's. You can also find many great tutorial on the WPMUDEV sister site . @aecnu's advice of doing routine backups is great or doing what @PAFoster said of filling it with content you don't care about. I cannot tell you how many times I have messed up my Wordpress and had to start from scratch losing all my content. I wish I had learned about WPMUDEV earlier as I would've saved a lot of time.


  • aecnu
    • WP Unicorn

    Greetings cindye, Xavier and PAFoster,

    Thank you all for being WPMU Dev Members and being part of this community.

    @PAFoster some rep points sent you way for taking the time and effort of helping another member.

    @xaviemirmon some rep points for you as well fro your input to help another member

    Cheers, Joe

  • Paul Foster Marketing
    • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    Hi again @Cindye,

    Here's the promised part 2. I've eaten and slept for a few hours and done a ton of other stuff today, so finally getting round to comming back to you!

    "Understanding and setting up a 'Membership model' online business website for newbies, Part 2."

    Assuming you now have your posts in the three categories and the 'about us' page, it time to fire up Membership.

    Now I'm just going through this in a basic "I know how a membership site works best" rather than any detailed stuff about the plugin, since I've only had time to check out the a few things - though I must say it looks soooooo easy to set up and work with compared to the many other plugins/themes I've had the (dis)pleasure of using.

    First make sure you only have essential plugins activated, which to be honest, at this stage should be nothing, lol.

    1) Fire up Membership and select 'Membership' and click 'Standard' site.
    2) Select 'Levels' and create a new level. Call it 'Free'
    3) Move across to 'Main Rules' on the right and select 'Categories' so it opens up below.
    4) Check the 'Free' category, and save the level (called 'add' bottom right blue button')
    5) Then add a second level, call this one 'Standard' (I'm using your terminology here, not to be confused with a 'standard' membership site)
    6) again go for categories and check 'Standard' and save.
    7) next menu item is subscriptions. create a subscription for 'Free' just type 'Free' in title, description etc, then from the top right, drag your 'Free' membership level into the dotted box, and save.
    8) add another subsciption this time for 'Standard' and drop the 'standard' member level into the box and then set the price of say $27* and save.

    And that from the point of view of setting up a basic membership site is that.

    Below is how it will work (accept it won't! As I've just discovered a major flaw in the software - which means the membership site business, marketing model I use could not be run with this Membership plugin - more on that in a min!!!)

    Basically a stranger, enquirer, lead, woman recommend by her friend to go and have a look, someone who followed a share link from facebook, twitter etc, and is interested but not ready to sign up to anything, even if it is free, (who are you anyway? and why should I give you my email address so you can spam me?), comes to your fantastic site for INFORMATION (that is the 2nd biggest reason why the world uses the internet - no need to discuss number one, lol). She has a poke around reads a few posts, click on the about us page etc, then gets more interested, maybe she gets distracted, a text from mum, then goes to gmail, then the boss calls, then maybe she bookmarked your site and comes back another day for another poke around, being as she also just noticed her friend's nextdoor neighbor's cat (yes they're on facebook too!) 'liked' your site on fb.

    So Miss "I'm interested, what else you got" then clicks on the 'read more' link of another post - but opps, sorry, that post is protected, since we are a very well known membership site, we only let our exclusive members read posts like that! But hey, it's FREE (yes FREE) to sign up. And there's plenty more to read in our FREE membership level, if you register with our site. Did I say it was FREE? We can then send you our newsletter every week to "keep you up to date" ( Marketing speak for "give you plenty of other reasons to get your credit card out with out even realising it!" ) And then who knows in a couple of weeks time you'll be begging us to show you a paypal button so you can upgrade to our 'Standard' membership level and we can charge you $27 for the privilge and sell you more products and that cherry glossed mint flavored lipstick from our 'prefered partner' that everyone's talking about! Have you tried it? No?

    I digress, lol.

    that is essentially a great model for a membership site, it doesn't matter what the content is or the niche, or what they get in each level, wether that be access to a forum, to get to create their own blog, or buy a brand new lipstick before anybody esle does, etc.

    That's how it works.

    you market your site, you get your stranger/visitor interested in the free stuff (the posts you added to your 'public' category and your 'about us' page that you set up for me to explain this) that's there for enticing them building trust, which means they'll then trust you enough to give you their name and email (register with your site and go up to 'Free' level) and their permission for you to market to them, providing you give them something for free in return, be that just general free content for registered members (the posts in your 'Free' category, protected so only accessible to people on your Free level who will have a 'free subscription') or a downloadable special report, etc, then you gently nudge them along until they gladly click the 'upgrade now it's only $27, but as a special deal we're giving you $10 off today only, so click this button NOW'. and move up to your 'standard level', then on up to Premiere and Elite levels, etc.

    I hope that has been a great part two to you membership business training, lol.

    Sorry it's a bit long, I do tend to go on a bit when my passion gets sparked!



  • Paul Foster Marketing
    • Design Lord, Child of Thor


    As noted in the obove post, I have a serious issue with your 'stranger settings' in the general options for the Membership plugin.

    The way I understnad this is, I need to set up a membership level for 'strangers', meaning I have to waste time setting up a level for what in essence is for public access?

    Either that or just have every visitor redirected to a sign up page?

    --> And loose them, since cold optins would be about 5% at best - that's 95% of my 'potential' revenue turned away without me even getting a crack at getting them into the membership funnel.

    All that should happen is, when any 'stranger' attempts to access protected content is taken to a sign up (sales) page where they can be offered something for free in return for their name and email and permission to market to them.

    If they don't trust you enough to register then, they can go back and read more public stuff before they hit protected content again. Basically any 'lead' can get all your public available free content before they have to make a decision to register to get access to more 'in depth solutions to their problem' - most will eventually, say 95%, the 5% who don't are no loss since you were never going to be able to sell them anything anyway.

    Can you explain why you have the 'stranger settings' ?

    Surely the chance to market to 95% of your traffic is far better than marketing to 5%.

    Are you really saying I have to set up a membership level for public access?
    Am I missing something?

  • william_martin
    • WPMU DEV Initiate

    Hi PAFoster - I wondered too about the 'stranger settings', but after some thought it seems to me that Membership handles the issues in a good way.

    As you know, the owner of any site with members has to decide what non-members will see just as he/she also has to decide what members at different levels will see. This means that access control for non-members needs to be thought through just as much as for access control for members. In a sense we could say that non-members actually have an implicit free 'membership' - unless they are totally denied access as they are a 'group' of people accessing your site.

    As you rightly point out many site admins use free goodies to entice people to eventually join as paid members. I think your question is: why bother having the 'stranger setting'. Is that right? The stranger setting, I think, is to allow for site admins who do not want do offer free info on their wordpress site to entice people to join their site. Some don't need it as as they may be doing their enticing elsewhere. They may be do it via email or via another site, they may have the membership site on a subdomain of their main site etc. They even be an invitation-only site etc. In such cases, goodies or info to get people to join are not required as part of that wordpress site and it is simpler to use the stranger setting switch so that if people want to see anything within they have to join.

    Hope that helps.


  • aecnu
    • WP Unicorn

    Greetings cindye, PAFoster, and william_martin,


    Yikes! I'm not sure I want to enter the realm of developers!

    Just by virtue of "developing" a web site or trying to "develop" a web site, believe it or not fits you right into the "developer" realm.

    On a side note, Membership is by far the hardest plugin to configure and get perfectly working that WPMU Dev offers, not even second to Ultimate Facebook.

    So you definitely picker the worst one or perhaps the best one to start learning from --> the worst because it is the hardest to configure in my opinion, the best because it will make the others seem simple :slight_smile:


    As noted in the obove post, I have a serious issue with your 'stranger settings' in the general options for the Membership plugin.

    Hey wait a minute here, I did not develop this so I am not going to claim ownership or responsibility thereof, I just answered a ticket to try to help. I am teasing about the "your" in your statement above.

    The way I understnad this is, I need to set up a membership level for 'strangers', meaning I have to waste time setting up a level for what in essence is for public access?

    That is correct.

    Can you explain why you have the 'stranger settings' ?

    As I mentioned earlier, I am not the creator of this and I would venture to say it was to be able to disseminate between member and non member access to various content and truly taking hold of the entire site keeping leakage to a minimum.

    @william_martin also gives plausible reasons for this level.

    Since I am not the lead developer I can give no further explanation then that. However, you are more then welcome to create your own ticket relative to that subject if you want the lead developers answer :slight_smile:

    @PAFoster and @william_martin some rep points sent your way for being so d-a-r-n helpful.

    Thank you all for being WPMU Dev Members!

    Cheers, Joe

  • Paul Foster Marketing
    • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    Thanks Guys!

    Very relevant comments there.

    My 'serious issue' was certainly far too strong!! I was spending the time going step by step through the membership model I use to help @cindye understand the concept, only to find at the end that the stranger setting completely threw me!

    I will indeed raise this in another thread at a later date, as I should have directed it a t you Joe! )especially considering the converations we have been having inother threads re 'filtering', lol!

    I have reverted back to s2Member for the current project, as the site it is too advanced to change over to a new methodology, albeit a much simpler one!

    Thanks guys!

  • Paul Foster Marketing
    • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    Oh and William, thank you for your comments too, you are right in your assumptions, I think my point was that creating a level of membership for general vistors seems entirely pointless.

    Maybe the on/off switch could be a some form of radio button with the other option I need? As I've said i'll raise it else where and perhaps you'd be kind enough to comment there too.

    Even 'Strangers' seems and odd word to use on the web, I've never come across it before. i thought we were all vistors? (individually - and traffic collectively) lol!

  • montiana
    • WPMU DEV Initiate

    hi, I'm montina and I'm a newbie. I'm trying ttho set up a membership site as well and this information have been very helpful. What I'm having a difficult time with is choosing a (community) based theme that works well with prosites and the membership site. I'm looking for some advice in this area.


  • montiana
    • WPMU DEV Initiate

    One of the other things I wanted to mention is that I want to set up a membership site with a (niche website builder). I'd like to be able to either upload or put a website builder on a membership site or if there is a plug in i'd like to know of it. Basically, I want to be able to charge a membership fee for members to build Niche websites on it. How can I make this happen.

    thanks, montiana

  • Alexander
    • DEV MAN’s Mascot

    Hi @montiana,

    I'm sorry we missed your post here, as this was such an old thread. Would you mind opening up a new thread for this? That way we don't miss anything, and can be courteous to the users above. This way they won't be receiving post notifications from our conversation - long after the topic was originally raised.

    It's also easier for us to keep track of newer threads.

    You can start a new topic here:


Thank NAME, for their help.

Let NAME know exactly why they deserved these points.

Gift a custom amount of points.