Whether you want to start a monthly box subscription, create an alternative to Patreon, or simply have an idea that needs some sort of membership/subscription, this is a how-to for WordPress websites.

Let me start by saying that this works on self hosted WordPress websites only.  If you have a hosting company like GoDaddy, BlueHost, GatorHost, etc. with your WordPress, then it’s self-hosted.  If you have a WordPress website where you pay yearly for a custom URL only then you do not have a self-hosted website and this article won’t help you much.  I do recommend getting a self-hosted site simply because there is so much more you can do with it!

On to what you’ll need to set up a membership/subscription service on your WordPress website.  I’ll include links and costs, if any, as well as an inexpensive alternative whenever possible.

  1. Payments:  You’ll need 2 things to start, and happily, both of them are free!  WooCommerce and a PayPal account.  PayPal is something just about everyone knows so I won’t go into details on that but as long as you have an account with them you’re good to start.  You can, of course, use a different payment gateway like Stripe, Square, Amazon Pay, and more but I’m going to use PayPal as the assumed gateway for the sake of this article and because, again, it’s free to open an account.
    • Why WooCommerce? WooCommerce has a lot of flexibility, tons of extensions, and well written documentation that can bring you through every step of using it, from set up to their most complex extension is very well explained step by step.
    • Plus WooCommerce offers 2 extensions that work brilliantly together to form a membership/subscription service.  I try to always use plugins & extensions from the same developers whenever possible as their stuff works best together.
  2. WPSpring: Here’s a little known way to get some amazing extensions for your website without it costing a lot, go to WPSpring.com and create an account.  Once you have, bookmark the Subscriptions and Memberships plugins then spend a bit of time looking at their other extensions to see if anything else fits well with what you want your site to do.
    • Note: WPSpring has a great monthly membership of only $15 to access all their plugin downloads.  This alone is worth it even if you only need the two plugins suggested in this article.  You can get the membership, download everything you want and cancel the membership before the month is up.  However, know that once you cancel the subscription, you will not be able to get updates for your plugins and they generally update every few months so it is possible to start and cancel your subscription whenever a new update comes up.  Please note that keeping your website up to date is vitally important to help keep it running smoothly and securely.
  3. Subscriptions: Once you have WooCommerce installed, you’re going to want to take advantage of their Subscriptions extension (cheaper version linked above).  Setting this up before your memberships makes things a lot easier.
    • Regardless were you get the extension from, the documentation is the same and can be found on WooCommerce’s website (no account necessary).
  4. Memberships: Next comes the Memberships extension by WooCommerce (cheaper version linked above) along with it’s documentation on setting it up and using it.

So far we’ve spent $15, going with the least expensive options, to add memberships to our website.  But how much time and maintenance does it take to run it?  How do you handle subscriptions when they come in?  What happens after we’ve set this all up?

I’m glad you asked! First, once you have everything set up properly, you only need to make sure you keep your extensions up to date in order for them to continue working.  Occasionally WooCommerce releases an update too early or it doesn’t quite work with other extensions you have but that’s the main reason why I try to always keep plugins/extensions from the same developers whenever possible.  If this happens, you’ll need to check out the support forums on WooCommerce to see what they suggest and/or wait a short while for them to offer another updated version without the bug.  Otherwise, once installed, you don’t need to do anything else.

Every time someone subscribes to my website, I get an email notifying me about it.  That’s it.  That’s all I have to do because once membership is set up correctly, access is instantly granted once they purchase a subscription.  So there’s nothing more for me to do other than focus on creating more art.  Even if they switch between subscription levels, all I get is an email and my site handles the rest.  The best way to see how it works is to have a friend subscribe to your site (hopefully before you make any announcements about having the service available) and switch between levels.  You’ll see how everything works from behind the scenes and they can tell you what happens on their end.

And that’s it!  If you have any questions, feel free to join me on Twitch or to message me on Twitter.  If you’re a patron/member of mine, you can always get one-on-one conversations and help with things like this; just message me on my Discord server.