If you’ve successfully launched a membership site, the next thing you’ll want to focus on is creating a membership retention strategy.
Membership programs are the envy of many business owners but they’re not a done deal. Keeping members for the long term is the best way to make this offer profitable.
That means coming up with effective membership retention strategies to encourage your members to stick around.
To find out the most effective membership retention strategies, we spoke with member site experts, Isis Brianna Woods and Katherine Kanrahan.
Here are their tips for membership retention, including top membership retention strategies and membership retention best practices.
- Why you need membership retention strategies
- How to figure out what your members want – and stop them from leaving
- 15 membership retention strategies to reduce member churn
Why you need membership retention strategies
On average, it costs 7-10 times more to win a new member than it does to hold on to an existing one.
Client acquisition is expensive – especially when you use affiliates or advertising to drive sales – and constant churn can quickly make your membership site cost more to run than it makes in profit.
A good churn rate is 5% and the highest you’ll get away with is 20%. That translates to 1 in 20 and 1 in 5 members respectively that you can afford to lose each month.
If you want to grow your membership, having to replace 20% of members with new ones every month just to maintain your current numbers isn’t sustainable.
All this makes membership retention strategies critical for the health of your business.
Key benefits of membership programs
Despite this challenge, membership programs are more appealing than ever.
They give participants three important benefits:
- Connection – people are craving community and membership programs give them a space to grow their network.
- Low barrier to entry – paying lower monthly fees for access to support is much less intimidating than joining high-ticket, time-bound programs especially in economic uncertainty.
- Learning new skills – many individuals are looking outside of their current job for added income and security and using memberships to grow their marketable skills.
Every single day a large number of business owners are making the decision to launch membership sites, and they are doing it either in addition to what their current offers or replacing other program formats altogether.
Technology businesses are very aware of this growing trend – in a 2020 survey of senior finance executives, more than 50% of respondents said at least 40% of their organizations’ revenues were recurring, sold via a subscription model (CFO).
In other words, consumers are getting used to subscription models – so it makes sense to incorporate this option into your own business.
Now you know the value of serving your clients through a membership model, let’s look at how to keep them.
How to figure out what your members want – and stop them from leaving
The key to creating a community is to know what your members want.
The easiest way to do that? Ask them!
As Isis explains, if you had a friend who called you all the time just to talk about themselves, you’d stop picking up the phone because it quickly gets really annoying. The same principle applies for your membership.
If you’re going to have a community, you have to ask members about themselves. Ask them what they need, ask them what they’re going through, and ask them what they want to hear more about in your community.
You can do this via your community space, including:
- Posting questions
- Using surveys
- Organizing live events
- Setting up one-to-one calls
- Monitoring member activity
For Isis’ membership program, the whole community took a month off when George Floyd was murdered. They used that time to sit and talk about what was happening rather than carrying on with normal community content. For community leaders, the question was how to create content during this time that served their members’ needs.
In cases like these, and every day, you have to pay attention to what your audience wants, needs and responds to. That’s how you can foster a strong community with members who trust you and want to stick around.
15 membership retention strategies you can use to reduce member churn
If you’re looking for membership retention strategies that will help you hold onto your existing members – and win over new members as soon as they walk in the door – here are 15 strategies for you.
Create captivating content
Rule number one of membership retention is to optimize your content for your members.
If you’ve got a monthly membership model, you need to have monthly content that’s tailor-made for your members. That means fresh content that educates and empowers your audience.
Creating relevant content for your members is essential to show them the value of your membership and make sure they keep paying their subscription fees.
Katherine has some great ideas for captivating content that will boost membership retention, including:
- Masterclasses e.g. a 30 minute live or recorded workshop
- Group coaching calls
- Downloadable resources e.g. templates, guides, tutorials
The content you create depends on your business and the transformation you’re offering to your students. Will they benefit more from masterclasses, live coaching calls or extra resources? What about something else?
Katherine’s members get a monthly masterclass that she created with Thinkific as part of her Dream Achievers Academy. Every month, Katherine releases a masterclass with a video and supplementary resource like a template, workbook or PDF guide.
When it comes to creating content for her members, Isis recommends finding the right balance between overwhelming and underwhelming your audience. You need to make sure you’re creating content at a rate that will keep your members engaged – but too much content can also turn members away.
If you’re putting out new content every day or 3-4 times a week, members can quickly become stressed from information overload.
To avoid this, you need to get to know your members and find the balance that will keep members engaged but not overwhelmed.
Make sure that your content is easy to understand. Let go of any arrogance, let go of big words, just teach people in a straightforward way so they can understand, implement and get results.
This is the number one thing to remember when you’re looking for membership retention strategies.
Find your niche
Almost everything is available online for free if you’re willing to put the time into finding it. That means that to boost your membership retention rates, you need to find your niche.
What people are looking for and will continue to pay for is hyper-relevance. This is why having the type of content that subscribers can’t conveniently find or create will encourage members to continue to pay for your content.
If a month or two goes by and they haven’t found the content, community or support useful, they’ll question the value – and may go looking for another solution that focuses more on their specific needs.
The people who are getting the most out of your program are the ones who you’ll want to continue to attract in the future and so they should shape your niche and your membership content.
Tiffany Aliche from The Budgetnista is a great example of a niche membership site that really works for her members – she teaches personal finance, specifically to women, especially women of color.
“I want to help women, especially black women, live richer lives. Because we have been left out of the financial conversation for so long.” TIFFANY ALICHE
Not only is Tiffany’s niche specific and clear, it’s also compelling.
Build a community space
To help improve your membership retention, create a community area for keeping in touch with your members and boosting their engagement with your brand.
Aim to create a supportive environment that builds an active community around your monthly membership program.
You can create your dedicated members community using Thinkific. In your community space, you can discuss monthly content, post questions, answer members, set challenges and help your customers feel like they’re part of a cohesive, collaborative group.
There’s a whole range of engagement ideas you can use to make your community space your own and build a strong community around your brand.
Not sure where to start? Ask your members what they want!
Top tip: Use your community to handle customer complaints too. Set up a system to make sure you answer every complaint or query within 24 hours and show members that someone really does care about their satisfaction. You can also post a quarterly or annual survey so you can collect feedback from members and make it a space where they want to stay.
Create a membership calendar
When you have a monthly membership program, you need to find a way to keep people engaged. This concept is at the heart of all the membership retention strategies out there.
A monthly membership calendar is a really useful method – especially if you have a dedicated community space set up for your members.
When people feel outside your membership community, when they don’t know what’s going on or they’ve lost touch with why they joined your membership in the first place, that’s when you start to see people dropping off.
A membership calendar keeps people in the loop with new developments and gives them things to look forward to in the month ahead.
Katherine recommends using a simple tool like Canva to create your monthly membership calendar and list the monthly content that you’ll be posting, including dates and times for live coaching sessions or calls.
This tactic will help you foster relationships with your community and maintain membership numbers. You’re helping your members get what they need out of your membership and that alone makes it a top membership retention strategy to have up your sleeve.
Set membership challenges
As part of your monthly membership calendar, you can also add another membership retention strategy – membership challenges!
Challenges keep your members engaged while also delivering results. Challenges should be based on what your members need and be genuinely valuable to make them helpful in the line up of membership retention strategies.
Isis has one example – she noticed members were asking about her morning routine and how she woke up feeling productive every day. After recognizing this, Isis and her team implemented a morning routine challenge as they identified it was an issue that a lot of members struggled with.
The morning routine challenge ended with a prize – a relaxing massage for the person who did the challenge every day – while also helping members become more productive through the course of the challenge. It allowed members to hit more wins within their own businesses so the challenge delivered results, as well as offering a prize at the end.
Make sure you celebrate members’ wins to add extra impact to your challenges. That means doing shout-outs to successful members in your coaching calls and in your community space to make members feel appreciated and engaged.
This tactic also helps to foster a sense of community within your membership program, encouraging members to support one another and hit their goals together.
Make a great first impression when onboarding
First impressions matter. The first experience your customer has as a paid member will set the stage for their ongoing engagement with your brand – and your membership retention rates.
Make sure you greet new members warmly and get them engaged from the very first interaction. This is not the time to have a complex path to signing up. Instead, make it as easy as possible for them to access to the tools and resources they need.
You can’t expect people to get results if they’re not even sure how to access the video, how to find the latest teaching, how to reach out to you for questions, or how to talk to other members. You want to make sure new members can maneuver through your site and use your features from the get-go.
A platform like Thinkific helps make onboarding simple and it’s easily scalable for more members as your membership program grows.
Though new members might be excited to jump straight in with your membership site, they might not know where to start. Create ‘getting started’ guidelines to provide direction and boost membership retention.
Katherine has a handy step-by-step guide to how she creates her guidelines:
- Checklist: Create a Thinkific checklist on the site builder. Use this to create a new member to do list. List out the things new members should do before accessing membership content.
- Video: Make a welcome video on how to navigate your membership program and its key features. Sit down and talk with them with a short, personal conversation on what’s in store for them.
- Survey: Add an onboarding survey to learn more about your members and put them to your mailing list. Get to know them in this step. Find out why they joined your membership, what they hope to get out of it and what their goals are.
To use the Dream Achievers Academy as an example, new members each get a video on how to navigate the membership site, what’s in store, a to-do list, and a checklist module that lists out each step members should take to get the best experience from their membership.
If your program is group-oriented, make sure you introduce them to the group or ask them to introduce themselves to get new members active in the community immediately.
Build a resource library
When it comes to membership retention strategies, Katherine’s heavy hitter is a resource library. A resource library is a place to house all your previous content for easy access from members both new and old.
Not only are your members getting fresh content every month, they’re also getting access to all of your previous monthly content too.
Katherine recommends using Thinkific to create your resource library. The site builder lets you feature the newest content first so it’s always easy to find fresh resources.
“You want your resource library and essentially every element of your membership to feel like a living, breathing element,” explains Katherine. “You want everything that’s in your membership to be intentional.”
When you have a new Masterclass that’s available, let members know that you added it to the resource library. So instead of searching through all your categories, they just have to click one item above the resource library.
This is a great membership retention strategy to keep people coming back to your content and reminding them of the value of their membership.
Bring in other voices
Looking for more membership retention strategies? Why not try bringing in other experts to talk to them!
Even the most inspiring leaders can quickly get boring if you have to listen to them all the time! If you want to convince your members to keep paying their subscriptions, offer them a range of perspectives and expertise beyond just you.
You don’t have to know everything – enlist the help of experts who can complement and enhance your teaching and add something new for members.
This tactic not only helps you boost membership retention rates, it also increases opportunities for you too. Isis has invited people to be guest coaches for her community and they’ve later invited her to be their guest coaches. It’s worth building relationships with other people in your niche to create a positive experience for your members and your business.
Why not invite your members to speak to your group too? Chances are, you have a lot of qualified people already in your membership. What better way to keep them engaged and make them feel special than allowing them to show off their expertise as a guest coach?
These membership retention strategies can be really fun – and super effective.
Provide the transformation members want
Every product or service needs to meet its customers’ goals – and that’s especially important for subscription-based businesses.
Whether it’s to feel good, have more, spend less – your messaging needs to be clear about what a purchaser gets when they buy from you.
For infopreneurs, that might include:
- Education: Increasing skills & capabilities through knowledge
- Coaching: Providing access to mentorship and one-to-one sessions
- Community – A space for like-minded people with common interests
Each one of these ideas emphasizes the core benefit a member will receive. It’s a bonus when all three of these are present but they don’t have to be to make a membership site successful.
If you can be clear on the outcomes your members can achieve, it will help you increase customer success and satisfaction.
As Isis says, “I am very big on not only selling fluff and saying that you can do things, but actually getting results for your clients, your students, your members […] So do not hold back on information.”
Map your customer’s journey
When thinking about membership retention strategies, it’s important to recognize that a person who joined your membership program a year ago won’t have the same challenges, opportunities or needs that they had when they first joined.
Staying aware of your customers’ evolving needs lets you create content and features that will help them meet their objectives throughout their customer journey.
When you understand their journey, you can figure out what you need to do for them at each point. This is known as community mapping.
Community mapping also prevents common mistakes that many membership community leaders make such as over-planning events and over-delivering content, only to find out that members aren’t using the majority of what you’re creating.
Work smart not hard and map your member journey from day one to increase membership retention.
Highlight member success with case studies
Case studies can be a powerful tool for inspiring members and encouraging them to keep persevering with your membership program.
Some participants don’t get the full benefit of the programs they join because they don’t know how to apply what they learn – or they give up too soon.
People connect with people. If your members can see how other members have grown and succeeded during their time in the group, they’re more likely to see that possibility for themselves.
Membership retention without member success is only a short-term solution. Demonstrate to your members the benefits of staying with your program through concrete case studies that inspire them and uplift them.
When it comes to membership retention strategies, this is a small addition that packs a big punch.
Change your membership terms for longer commitment
If you don’t already have annual membership options, now’s the time to create them.
It’s always worth asking for a longer commitment from your members. We all know that real change doesn’t happen overnight so if members want real growth, they’ll have to commit to the time that it takes to achieve results.
Longer membership terms give new members more time and space to get involved in the community and content without putting pressure on them to use it right away. 30 days go by quickly and for some members, it’s not enough room to dive into your membership site.
After a set period of time, offer up a one-year buy-in where members can lock into a lower monthly rate with a full year commitment to help them help themselves.
The easiest way to increase membership retention is to incentivize the current ones to stay with you for longer as soon as possible.
Set up regular meetings with members
To improve membership retention for your program, start meeting with your members one-on-one as much as you can.
This doesn’t have to be weekly, it doesn’t even have to be monthly. Isis sets time aside each quarter for customer meetings. She opens her calendar and lets members hop on calls to tell her exactly what they need.
Even if you can’t meet with every single member, meeting with just a few can give you key insights into what your customers want from your membership program and from you.
Meetings like these are also critical for customer satisfaction. Make sure that anyone who’s feeling lost, disgruntled, or thinking about leaving has a clear method to communicate their concerns to you.
Find a time that works for your members by sending them a poll or survey where they can let you know what times are best.. You may find that this adjusts season to season or quarter to quarter, however your membership program is set up.
Isis has an international audience so her team introduced two meeting times for her audience. While the majority of their meetings are around 6pm or 7pm, they also have meetings around 10am or 11am Eastern time, which is in the evening for UK members. This small change means everyone can join the meetings and have their say.
Contact each member when they cancel
Member churn is expensive and membership retention strategies are all about minimizing them as much as possible.
In the event that someone does cancel, it’s worth contacting them with a phone call or a personalized email to ask why they left.
From this you’ll be able to do two things:
- Find out what wasn’t working for them anymore so you can address it and hopefully encourage them to stay.
- Gain valuable information that can be used for improving the program for other members, even if this one doesn’t stick around.
Sounds costly? If your members pay anywhere from $350 – $5000 per year, it’s certainly worth a 15-20 minute phone call from you or a member of your team to find out why they’re leaving.
Continue to show up as the leader
One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make when it comes to membership retention is setting up their site and forgetting about it.
Many members join membership programs because they’re fans of the original founder. When that founder fails to show up regularly in the community, their connection to the entire membership program fizzles out.
As Katherine explains, the biggest goal is to show your members you care about them: “You care about their journey and they’re not just a dollar sign to you, they are a person, they are somebody you want to help transform. They’ll remember that.”
If you’re looking for membership retention strategies that really work – this is a big one. Put in the work, turn up for your members and you’ll convince them to stay a part of your community.
Membership retention example: Fitness Protection
MK Fleming, the founder of Fitness Protection, an online coaching program for non-elite runners, is a great example of this membership retention strategy in action.
MK is hugely passionate about changing the lives of people of all fitness levels by giving them the kind of training that won’t lead to burnout and will keep them fit year-round.
Despite the fact that she recruited brilliant coaches to serve all of her individual coaching programs, her job is still to hold the space for inspiration and radical self-acceptance.
When MK got busy in the summer of 2020 as an advocate in her local community, her presence was missed inside Fitness Protection. Her members noticed the absence and some of them began to cancel. It wasn’t normal attrition – she lost tones of members after historically having VERY little churn.
As soon as the effects became clear, she made sure to prioritize showing up for her members and offering her personal insights and guidance. While she doesn’t run every aspect of her subscription program, she always makes sure to be there for her members.
3 Membership retention best practices
We’ve looked at membership retention strategies – but what about membership retention best practices. Here are Isis and Katherine’s top membership retention best practices to make sure your members have no reason to leave you.
1. Know who your target member is
The key to any good membership retention strategy is to know your target member.
Know who you’re speaking to when you post on your membership site, who you want to help, who your services are catered to and more, that group of people will feel like you are taking the words right out of their mouth.
Retaining members is about giving them the content they need and crave. If you can get clear on who your ideal member is, you can target your content and your marketing to that audience.
Think about the questions they have, their objectives when becoming members and what they want to gain from this experience. This is the number one membership retention best practice to remember.
2. Automate key membership tasks
As your membership grows, it’s important to automate key membership tasks wherever you can. This will free up your time and give your members the best possible experience – helping to encourage them to stay an active part of your community.
Here are two tools Katherine recommends.
Zapier is Katherine’s favorite automation tool to save time and energy in managing her membership program. Zapier has thousands of app integrations you can use, including slack notifications when a new enrollment occurs, so you’ll immediately know when someone’s signed up. You can also automatically subscribe new members to your email list. Zapier even lets you automate community area posts.
By automating these processes, you can free up your time and save money on a virtual assistant. It’s all happening behind the scenes with minimal input or effort from you.
If you have a Facebook group, Katherine recommends GroupLeads for Facebook group automation. GroupLeads lets you manage everyone who’s coming into your membership space. It also gives you automatic group member approval so you can make sure that everybody who signed up for your membership is granted access to your Facebook group. It also stops you getting people in your group who haven’t paid for the membership.
These tools can help to make your membership program management more efficient – and let you focus on showing up for your members rather than getting bogged down in admin and time-consuming tasks.
3. Show them love
The best thing you can do for your membership is to care about them.
Listen to their concerns, make an impact in their lives and give them the tools they need to succeed.
As Isis says, “When you’re operating out of love, that means you’re also operating out of respect.”
If you’re going to start a membership or if you have a membership right now, ask yourself how you can do more for your members. Help them feel like more than just a number on a page or dollars in your bank account.
If you can show your members that you genuinely care about them and are rooting for them to succeed, they’re going to stay in your membership program for longer – and probably recommend their friends too.
Find the membership retentions strategies that work for you
Growing your membership site without a retention strategy is sort of like filling a bucket with water that has holes in it.
Finding new members is half the battle when it comes to growing your membership site. A solid membership retention strategy will help you grow your bucket of members by keeping the ones you have.
About the experts who informed this article
Katherine is the CEO and Co-Founder of Imagine A Mind, an online business helping female coaches build a profitable brand and magnetic online presence.
Isis, also known as the Digital Sales Guru, specializes in helping coaches, educators, experts, and strategists turn their big ideas into sold out courses. Isis opened her own membership site called Brown Girl Business World which now has a membership retention rate of over 95%.
This blog was originally published November 2020, and was updated June 2022 to expand our list of membership retention strategies.