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October 2014The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

Two Types of Membership Site

Not long ago someone posted a question on a forum I frequently visit asking about setting up membership sites. I hadn't really thought about it before that question but there are in fact two totally different types of membership sites and while a small portion of the code may overlay between the two types, the rest of the code will be completely different.

One of these two types of membership site is far more common on the web than the other type is. These types of site offer membership of the site itself. Depending on what level of membership you have (which usually consists of a free level and various paid levels) you gain access to download various 'products' from the site. These products are usually electronic items of some sort - most often documents but sometimes software. These sorts of sites are a popular choice with some internet marketers as if they continue to provide regular products and members need to make regular payments in order to maintain their access to obtain those products then the marketer gets a reasonably regular income from their members.

Building such a site completely from scratch is not all that difficult for anyone with a reasonable level of programming ability. I created such a site at in a relatively short time. I didn't actually promote the site well enough to get many signups even for the free level of access and apart from a few products of my own the other products there (for which I have resale rights) are not all that great (although thery are the best of what I could find around at the time). You can look on it more as an example of what can be done relatively simply using a few scripts that I had already written.

Where I actually made a bit of money from producing that membership site wasn't from the site itself but rather from the membership site toolkit script that I wrote that provides all of the main functionality of the site and the Paypal IPN script that I wrote that provides the payment processing for the higher levels of the membership. I did actually manage to sell several copies of each of these scripts that allowed other people to quickly create their own membership site and to collect online payments. Neither of these scripts took all that long to write and creating a site using them didn't take all that long either.

The other type of membership site is completely different although it too needs the functionality provided by those two scripts (although obviously most such sites would have their own versions of that code rather than using my scripts). With this second sort of membership site the members are not members of the site, they are members of a club or other organisation and many of the members may not even have internet access. With this type of membership site the provision of products to download is of secondary importance. The main purpose of such a site is the maintaining of membership records for the organisation or club and the different access levels will be determined not by how much is paid but by the role that the members have in the club.

This type of membership site takes a lot longer to build from scratch than the other type of membership site does. A club membership site needs to record a lot more information about the members - just the email address and name is often enough for a product membership site but a club membership site will need their address and various other information about them such as awards they have been presented with.

Not all members will join up or renew online so whoever is looking after the membership records will need options for inputting and updating membership details for any member, a quick way to renew members who renew through the post (snailmail). A means of printing receipts in bulk to send out to those members who renewed through the post and various audit trail reports to be able to clearly match up payments to renewals and new memberships.

Committee members will need access to a variety of membership lists and labels as well as a way of generating letters on club letterhead to post out either to members or anyone else that the club needs to communicate with. A range of statistics will also be useful to compare membership numbers over time, identify how new members heard about the club, show membership retention rates etc.

To encourage members to renew themselves online you might then throw in a few additional features such as online copies of club publications to go with the options you provide for the member to update their own membership details.

Building this type of membership site takes a lot longer than building a simple product membership site. Perhaps that's why there are not very many sites that offer scripts with this level of functionality. In fact a search I did a while ago only found two sites offering membership scripts that looked like they were intended for setting up this type of membership site. There are probably a few others around but the total number isn't going to be all that large and each is going to differ greatly in the functionality they offer. Depending on the type of club they are intended for the exact functionality they offer may be significantly different. There are also desktop programs for maintaining this type of membership but with those the person looking after the membership has to do everything as they will be the only one with access.

One such desktop program I looked at many years ago required manually updating fields on several different screens just to renew one member. It was to speed up the renewal processing for a club I belong to that led to my gradually replacing that desktop program with an online membership site that I wrote. Initially the site had everything hard coded for the requirements of that club at that time but more recently I have rewritten the code so that over 90% of it can now be reused for other club membership sites. In fact I have worked out a way to offer a hosted club membership site where all of the clubs will share almost all of the actual code with most of the differences being determined from the content of separate databases. I am almost finished setting up a demo version of this club membership site which I will link into my site which now advertises the hosted script and asks for a couple of clubs to help beta test the new shared version of the script.

One problem I can see in trying to promote my new club membership site is in how to differentiate this type of membership site from the far more common 'product' sites that appear all over the web.

On Site

Most of my time over the past month has gone toward starting to get my membership site up and running ready to host new clubs. While doing so I have come up with some new topics to write about so you can expect to see a few more PHP and mySQL articles over the coming months.

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