Should I have a free membership?

I see this question come up pretty often, for new membership sites, as well as established ones.

I saw it again recently in a Facebook group, worded like so:

Right now my membership has one tier. where members get new content every month (trainings, challenges, exercises, webinars, etc)

I'm considering adding a free tier, where people would get access to just a small part of the membership, and if they want to get the best of it, they can upgrade.

What are your thoughts on this?

My idea is to bring more eyes to the membership and experience a bit what it means to be part of it, so people have a better idea of what they could be getting if they fully join, compared to just seeing everything from outside the fence (which is what happens now: you’re either in or out.)

Here's my advice:

In almost all cases, a free tier is no better than an email-for-content trade, and in some cases worse. By “email-for-content trade”, I mean asking visitors for their email address, and promising them access to some sample content in return.

Here’s why:

The friction & hassle involved in signing up for a free membership is much, much higher than entering your email address. Would you rather:

  • enter your name
  • enter your email
  • enter your username,
  • enter your password (twice)
  • be told that username is already taken
  • choose another one
  • save the password in your password manager
  • wait for the confirmation email
  • click the link
  • log in
  • finally get to the content

Or:

  • enter your email
  • click the link
  • see the content you were promised

Can you even imagine going through that first sequence on your phone while waiting in line at the grocery store? Of course not.

So there’s strike number one against a free membership tier. Remember: when you’re trying to gather leads (and that’s the point of both of these options), always go for lower friction.

Strike two against a free membership tier: you’re also creating unnecessary work for yourself.

If you add a free membership tier, you still need to market to those free members, in an attempt to convert them to paying members. Only now, you’ve got to do extra work to sync up your membership system with your email list, instead of dumping them straight onto there (tagged appropriately, of course).

You’ve also got to do the extra work of organizing the content on your site, and granting access as needed to that free membership tier.

Not only that, but are you now going to continue adding to what free members get access to? If so, you’ve either got to increase your content production volume, or devalue the paid membership, since free members now get access to some content that would otherwise be paid only.

All that, when you could stick with a simple, straightforward email signup/lead capture setup.

Let your email list be the “free tier”, where people can get some value, and where you can focus on upselling them to a paid membership. No need to overcomplicate things.

Have a question? Email me, travis@memberup.co, and I promise I'll get back to you.