Budget friendly membership site tools how to build a membership site on a budget

I know how tempting it can be to want to have the best of everything when you first launch your course. I would lust after fancy platforms, beautiful branding and awesome video content. I wasted many months and dollars trying to figure out how to create the bee’s knees of membership sites. 

You have to start “somewhere”

After wasting time I decided on an all in one platform that could not do everything I wanted, but it could host my course and start making me money. That platform was called New Rainmaker. It had all of the techy parts already set up and unlike many other options there were not a heap of ‘plugins’ that needed to be meshed together to make the membership site work. Simple! 

Two and a half years later I was ready for something new, so the epic upgrade of my first membership site began. I am so glad that I committed to that initial Rainmaker platform. If I hadn’t I would have missed out on thousands….and thousands…. and …. well you get the picture… a LOT of money!  

That site, even though it wasn’t what I really wanted, gave me the income to focus my time and energy on online courses and to let go of 90% of my one on one coaching clients. I was able to refine my marketing, grow my list and create even more content, instead of trying to replicate something pretty someone else had. I learned a LOT about techy stuff, branding and how to bring the new site together when I was ready, all while making money. 

So let’s check out the old Vs the new:

Membership Site

New Rainmaker Platform

Thrive Themes + MemberMouse on WordPress

Branding: As you can see the branding has had an update and the look and feel is more streamlined. When I first started I knew very little about creating a consistent brand. Check out all of those fonts! Urrghhh....

Navigation: The sidebar menu took up so much space and when I created the site the colour could not be customised. It looks clunky and confusing! The new navigation is at the top now, it is super simple and unintrusive.

Module Layout: The modules (or kits as I call them in the Members Club) have everything together that you need. No scrolling to the bottom of the page to find the right resource. ​

Sales Pages: I could kick myself for not screenshotting my old sales pages so you could see the difference from Rainmaker to Thrive Themes Content Builder. The old page was difficult to customise and clunky. 

Old Content Page

New Content Page

Could I have achieved the same or similar look with the old platform? No idea! I know I personally couldn't as my coding skills suck. I could probably have paid someone to upgrade the site. Ultimately I would still not have had the flexibility that I was looking for to create a membership site that had everything I wanted. 

What would I do differently?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The steps and upgrades happened as my income increased and my knowledge expanded. ​

Marketing - AWeber to Active Campaign

I started many years ago with Mailchimp. Even back then I reaslied it had massive limitations but I was sucked in by the ultra cheap pricing. Things have changed a lot in the world of database building and marketing. I don't even think autoresponders were a "thing" when I started out! I quickly moved from Mailchimp to aWeber which was a nice stepping stone to where I thought I wanted to be.. the big bad ol' Infusionsoft! 

In hindsight I am so glad I didn't move to Infusionsoft. It is very pricey and cumbersome to use. While I was upgrading to WordPress + Membermouse I decided to move my email marketing and database too. I went with Active Campaign as they have the most outrageously good automations! If I had a do-over I would start with Active Campaign. I love it! 

Active Campaign has the right mix of affordable pricing and tools to grow with your business. If you're just starting out or you have more complicated funnels like me it will suit you well. 

Marketing - Lead Page to Thrive Themes

I said goodbye to Lead Pages, as much as I loved it I was ready to ditch the monthly pricing. Would I have started with them if Thrive Themes existed back then? Yes! Lead Pages have awesome templates and it makes setting up your opt in pages super easy. At the time I was looking for speed over price as design was not a strong skill of mine. Now I stick with the Thrive Themes templates which are awesome and can be completely customised. You can even build your own from scratch! It is much better value too. I was spending $720 per year on Lead Pages and now spend $149 per year on Thrive. 

Video Hosting - Wistia back to Vimeo

I started my online course adventure with Vimeo. Back then there was a limit to what they would allow you to upload for free. Meanwhile the lovely generous people over at Wista where giving lots of video space for free. I moved all of my goodies from Vimeo to Wistia. I logged in one day last year to upload another video thinking I would 'maybe' have to start paying for a basic membership at around $20 per month. I was shocked when that next video I wanted to upload somehow tipped me over into a monthly fee of $130. So it was back to budget friendly Vimeo I went! I have videos hosted on both right now which isn't ideal but I kept my costs down to $69 per year for Vimeo and a free account with Wistia. 

Wistia

Wista video for host for online course creators

Vimeo

Vimeo vs wistia which is best for online course video hosting

If you're looking for detailed insights on how people interact with your video Wistia is worth the investment. I didn't use any of that so Vimeo does what I need. 

Countdown Timer

Thrive Themes really is rocking my online world right now. They have a slew of amazing plugins that you can access when you purchase an annual membership. I was using Countdown Monkey as my sales page timer (for building scarcity into my offers). It was clunky, it screwed with New Rainmaker sales pages for some reason and it wasn't cheap. At $79 year for access it was an easy choice to put those coins towards a Thrive Membership instead.  You can buy Thrive Ultimatum as a single plugin too. 

Countdown Monkey

countdown monkey scarcity timer vs thrive themes ultimatum

Cost Comparison

Tool

Old

New

Membership Platform

New Rainmaker ($97USD/month)

MemberMouse ($29USD/month)

Email Marketing

aWeber ($80USD/month

Changed to Active Campaign for better automation ($80 USD/month)

Landing/Sales Page

Lead Pages ($60USD/month)

Thrive Content Builder ($149USD/year) **

Payment Processor

Stripe

No Change

Countdown Timer 

Countdown Monkey ($79USD/year)

Thrive Ultimatum (included in Thrive cost above)

Theme

New Rainmaker inbuilt 

Thrive Themes - Pressive (included in Thrive cost above)

Hosting

Included with NRM

Siteground -$169 AUD per year (but already had this for main site)

​Video Hosting

Cost (per year)

Wistia ($120 USD per month)

Approx $4.5K USD

​Vimeo ($69USD for 12 months)

$1,400K USD

I have included the cost above but honestly this was not a cost saving exercise. As my main income stream I am happy to pay for whichever service works the best for my needs and saves time! I also like automation, so where I can pay to automate I do! ** Thrive Themes has increased in price to around $249 USD I think - I got in early so retail the special price!

So the moral of the story is... just start! You can waste a lot of time and money trying to find the perfect solution, meanwhile you're missing out on potentially thousands of dollars. The move over from the old site to the new was a tedious process but only really took a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things.