Create A Membership Site Online By Mastering Six Key Aspects: Value-Creation, Strategy, Business Model, Technology, Member Experience, And Marketing.
The idea behind membership sites as a Knowledge Commerce product is this. You may have built up a good library of content. Maybe you have a good number of ebooks, short courses, templates, and worksheets.
Or if you don’t yet have all these, maybe you’re confident of fast creation.
Your customers may want all this in pick-and-choose doses. They may like to pay for access to your library through monthly subscriptions. You can set pricing plans at different levels. You can thus allow graded access to your library of knowledge products.
At Solohacks Academy, we think having lots of members paying you a small fee every month could make your income more reliable. But one thing is important to remember: this is by no means a “passive income” idea … in fact, membership sites need your constant marshalling. If you’re ready for that, you’ll enjoy earning regularly and well, creating your community, and being the active thought-leader.
1. The Pros, Cons And Value In Membership Programs
Before you begin to think about starting a Membership Program, it helps to fully understand its pros and cons. It also helps immensely to understand what customers value a lot about such programs, and what they expect to see and experience by becoming members. Don’t skip this section, because the points here are critical to shaping your mindset for setting up your Membership Program for success.
a. The Positives Of Membership Programs
Membership sites have some clear plus points. They also have some areas of challenge. It pays to get into this kind of Knowledge Commerce product with your eyes open. Let’s first take a look at the benefits you get as a memberships seller.
You can get recurrent income which helps your budgeting
Membership sites are based on recurring subscription payments from customers. But don’t only think of these as monthly subscriptions. You can also have quarterly, bi-annual or annual subscriptions. The better discounts you can give for long-term subscription commitments, the more reliable will be your income.
Reliable income helps you with many things in business. You can plan and budget your own growth with some steadiness. You can put away some savings that will see you through tough times. If you have a steady customer base you can even monetize this. You can allow other businesses to advertise on your membership pages.
Your library needs a wide variety of small products
Membership sites work well when you have a bank of several small products, instead of a few large ones. For you, these are much easier to create. People who become subscribers like to have a “buffet spread”. They like to help themselves to what they need at any particular phase that they or their businesses are in.
But it’s also imperative that what’s in your library is up-to-date. You don’t want to be offering knowledge that is two years old, or research that has outrun its expiry date. Members want information that is practical and at the cutting edge. They pay regularly to stay on your program because you offer the “latest information hacks” in practically-taught ways. Seeing a lot of variety in your library is what gives them a sense of value for money.
You can practice by setting up a free Facebook Group
Are you not yet sure of being able to run a membership site? One of the best ways to practice for free is to set up a Facebook Group. Members too can join Facebook groups for free. This all-round cost-free exercise will show you what it takes to promote a group. It will also show you what it takes to keep the members of the group loyal to you.
Some Knowledge Commerce practitioners always keep a free Facebook group going. They keep adding free members. They can then cajole these members to join their paid membership sites. This works really well because you get members who learn to trust you on Facebook. They know what value you offer and how you operate. So, they then don’t mind paying the subscription on your site for more broad and deep information.
b. The Negatives Of Membership Programs
There are many negatives to Membership Programs. But those who make millions out of memberships treat all negatives as opportunities. Do you have what it takes, and are you willing to put in the effort? If yes, then membership sites are a great bet as knowledge products.
If you haven’t a great library of content, it’s hard work
Most entrepreneurs start membership sites when they have a lot of blog articles done already. They convert some of those quickly into exclusive members-only content. They repurpose or update their blog posts as edocs, courses, ebooks or podcasts.
What if you don’t already have enough content to put on the buffet spread for your members? You’re going to find the creation of content for your membership site hard. You have to find the energy, inclination and persistence to get it done – and you also have to make content creation an ongoing process.
People will unsubscribe so you need continuous promotion
It’s a given that in any subscription-based model of business, there will be a churn of subscribers. People will stop being members, while new members will join. Your endless marketing job will be this. You have to see that the number of new subscribers will always exceed the numbers that will leave you. Only that spells growth.
Getting new subscribers is not an easy task. Since it takes a lot of effort to get new subscribers, it pays to spend equal, or more, effort in keeping the ones you have. This may mean more emailing shots, more hand-holding or more attention paid to existing subscribers. Whether you are gunning for more subscribers or trying your best to retain the ones you have, it is all hard work. Those who have excelled at running membership sites are those who’ve learned to sustain their marketing efforts without let up.
By no means is a Membership Program a “passive income” source
I am always surprised to see membership sites included among the list of “passive income ideas.” You have to show up every day no matter what. You can’t take a holiday unless you take your work with you. When you’re not marketing to find new members or keep old ones, you have to be creating new knowledge products for your library.
You can hire Virtual Assistants to do daily member-minding. But it will take time and effort and cost to train them. Some entrepreneurs double up on creating new products before taking vacations. That way their members will hopefully not miss their absences. The questions at stake are these. Can you afford to take a break when you need it? How will your customers still get what they’re paying for? As long as you have a plan and the money for it, you’ll be fine.
c. What Members Value A Lot In Membership Programs
It helps to know what members perceive as “value” in Membership Programs. What makes them want to belong to the site? What makes them remain members for a long time? There is a lot of worthwhile research that gives us some good answers.
Members value being invited to “exclusive events”
Webinars, seminars or mastermind classes are great events that people like to be invited specially for. One attractant is the group atmosphere. Usually, membership sites can feel like places where individual members get what they seek to know. But those times when groups of members get together to share knowledge is when the community bonding develops. Community-kinship is a great loyalty-builder.
You don’t have to stage such events too frequently. It can be monthly, or even once every two months. Events should ideally be preceded and followed up with a bit of buzz. Make sure the sessions last at least an hour. You can send around an email asking for questions subscribers would like answered. You can then send around the finalized agenda for the session. You can also spice things up a bit by inviting a special guest – a top influencer – to talk to your group.
Members like to have themselves or their businesses assessed
If you’re catering to other business owners, here’s one of the things they love to get done. Offer to audit their business or website for free, and suggest customized recommendations. Your membership site will feel like a venture that cares for its members’ growth.
If you’re not dealing with businesses but individuals, a self-assessment quiz is a great idea. Follow this up with a few personalized recommendations from you. It can make a big difference to your members. Make sure you offer this assessment or audit right upfront when a member joins. That’s the time to make them feel welcomed with a spot of personal interest.
Members like knowing who else is a member
Everybody likes to be seen in good company. Even more, they like being in company that is greater than their usual circle. A lot of members I once surveyed, on why they joined membership sites, told me they liked being part of environments where the others are successful or known people. That’s probably why many membership sites like to show lots of testimonials from existing members who have some repute.
Another extension of this idea, which some membership sites have, is a bulletin email of new members who have joined. This, no doubt, helps in retaining many members who were planning to leave. As they see the interest of others in joining the site, they tend to reconsider their idea of leaving. Especially if the new joiners are people of some standing, the old members surely won’t leave in a hurry.
2. Planning Your Membership Program Strategy
Every great program begins with some strategy planning. Membership sites are no different. You have to first find the right topic idea that may make you differentiated and valuable in your niche, and then find the exact target audience segments you can reach out to.
Memrbership Programs are also about the quantity and quality of informational content you offer for members to consume in their preferred formats – text, audio or video. So if you have some content already completed and published, you’ll have to see how these fit with your potential audiences, or if they need some tweaking and updating to become relevant to your new membership program. These are things we’ll begin with.
a. Choosing The Right Topic For Your Membership Program
Unlike creating and selling ebooks or online courses – where you find a single topic in your niche to build a knowledge product around – it’s a great deal different to think of topics your membership program must cover.
Membership programs are rather like memberships of libraries. People are attracted to join only if you offer both depth and breadth to your library. So how do you find a suitable topic around which you can slowly build up a whole repository of theoretical and practically useful content in your niche?
First, mindmap all the topics your unique Knowledge Commerce expertise niche will allow you to.
What are mindmaps and how are they to be used?
According to SimpleMind, the tool I like to use, “A mind map is a tool for the brain that captures the thinking that goes on inside your head. Mind mapping helps you think, collect knowledge, remember, and create ideas. Most likely it will make you a better thinker.”
A mindmap looks somewhat like the diagram shown below.
Image courtesy: Iris
As you branch out from the center of your niche, you’ll find many sub-topic branches that seem logical. You put the ideas you keep collecting under any branch where they seem to fit. You also keep adding branches if new ideas you gather don’t fit under existing branches.
Don’t stop to sort it all out perfectly as you gather ideas together. Your goal should be to make your mindmap a kind of repository for all the ideas, thoughts, quotes and other information bits and pieces of value you collect, putting it all into some kind of quick-and-easy logic that feels temporarily right.
Sorting and rearranging your mindmap
After you are through with gathering all the information that comes under your niche, then sort the mindmap. See if the topics and branches need rearrangement – or a different kind of hierarchy. See if the content ideas need to be under other branches than the ones you’ve put them in.
Once that’s done, see if you want to build your Membership Program to include your whole niche and all its sub-topics, or whether there’s enough meat in any one of the sub-topics to create a Membership Program around just that sub-topic. You have to create content for years to come, so think about this carefully. Your choice of which branch to make the focus of your Membership Program will depend on the ability to expand on the sub-topic. Try expanding out your mindmap around any one of the interesting sub-topic branches to see how far the topic can be drilled down.
If in doubt, consider making your whole niche your Membership Program topic idea. That way you already have a lot of thinking done on the mindmap to see how much can be written or produced as content in that topic.
Making your final topic decision
If we take the Time-Management niche in this image above, we could either make “Time-Management” our topic for the Membership Program, or we could zero in on “Work-Life Balance” (one of its branches) into the topic for our Membership Program. Which would you rather write reams about, day in and day out? Which would people value more – time-management as a whole, or work-life balance? That’s the question only you can answer for yourself.
The mindmapping helps because you have tried exploding the subject and looking at its potential for depth and breadth. Membership sites need to be built around topics where you can find a lot of things to teach from various angles of interest around a topic. The topic you finalize must be capable of sustaining your own interest and retaining customers who want more and more on the same topic.
b. Locating Your Ideal Target Audience Segments
As a next step, you need to look for target audiences likely to be interested in your chosen topic for the Membership Program. But, again, as we did with our topic-drill down to see its potential to create lots of knowledge products of depth and breadth, we have to drill down to see if a large-ish audience segment exists with the potential to break down into many smaller micro-target-segments.
If we aim to go this way, we will have many knowledge products deeply relevant for many small but specific segments of our target audiences.
The idea here is to use the techniques of micro-marketing. What is that?
Micro marketing calls for an extremely narrowed but extremely intensive focus on small groups of highly targeted audiences. It is based on the concept that if you break down your already tight niche into smaller and smaller segments of specific audiences to target, you can hit the sales threshold faster than otherwise.
Why does micro marketing work faster? The primary reason is that when you address small groups of people whose pain-points you can understand deeply, and focus on with great detail, the key sections of your library of membership content can be very concentrated on their needs.
Your content pieces will resonate with audiences better, and at an emotional and empathetic level. Your audiences will instinctively begin to feel that you know them and their issues very well, and they will feel as if you are creating content for them, almost on a one-to-one basis. Trust bonds develop faster when people feel “understood” … and as trust builds, so does loyalty and customer-retention.
To understand micro audience segmenting better, let’s take an example
Let’s say, you have identified your overall audience for the “sports injury niche”. Maybe you’re toying with the idea of starting a Membership Program for professional sportspeople, and even amateurs, who have to find ways to get back on the mend after injuring themselves. You have many ways to slice this audience.
You can group people by their physical problems or characteristics – like height or weight, or age group. Or, better still, you may segment by specific injuries (and you know there are plenty) … like women in sports “on the brink of diabetes”, or men with “shoulder-dislocation sports injuries”, or teen swimmers who get “repeated muscle-tear injuries from wrong backstroke techniques”.
The more deeply specific you get with the various micro-segments in your potential target audience, your solutions via content-creation for them can be very specific to their problems. Your membership library can grow as you create a lot of content for each of these micro-segments.
For instance, people with shoulder dislocation injuries can be shown physiotherapy techniques, given information about possible surgery and its effectiveness, or taught special yoga or a recovery regime for shoulder-muscle strengthening. You could also show them the way to live with the problem by learning to throw a ball, or hold a tennis racquet differently, to not exacerbate their problems. The drill-down possibilities are endless.
See how going granular with your audience via micro-segmenting explodes a range of library-filling ideas for each micro-segment of the audience.
c. Assessing Content You Have For Audience-Fit
If you’ve already been blogging a lot, or creating podcasts or YouTube videos, you could consider checking all your knowledge-products to see if they will form the first few pieces of content in your Membership Program library. Most importantly, you have to see that these pieces of content you already have fit in with the audience segments you have identified as your micro-marketing prospects.
Chances are you do have some content – but unless you tweak it for audience-segment-fit, it may not be readily reusable. So here’s what you need to do …
Four things you can do with old content you have to make it usable for your Membership Program
- Identify all content that is dated, and refresh it with up-to-date content. Preferably, ensure that the content becomes “evergreen content” i.e. valuable at any time and not time-limited. See that all the data you have used shows the results of recent research.
- For every piece of theoretical content you have previously published, review and refresh the practical usefulness of it. Some content could be repurposed into extra formats, such as text content being repurposed also for video or podcast versions. Some content could be enhanced with content upgrades, such as add-on worksheets, PDF versions, or templates. The idea is to offer many formats and add-ons created out of the same content, to build the utility value of your library.
- If the images that go with all the disparate contents you have are not coherent, all your pieces of content may not look like they belong to a single Membership Program. So, standardize the images and look and feel of the pieces to visually give them a coherent brand look.
- Internal linking of all the content that addresses the needs of a particular audience segment is a great idea. As the audience segment consumes its relevant content, the links will lead to related content that may also be attractive to read or engage with.
What if you don’t already have enough older content to put on the buffet spread for your members? We’ve got ideas for you to easily create new content at speed. We’ll get to that soon in this article … read on.
3. Deciding Your Membership Business Model
The next few questions you have to consider and decide on are your business model, the structure and contents of your new library of knowledge products, and your pricing strategy. So let’s dive into these.
a. The Business Model Options You Have For Memberships
What is your business model? It’s a plan of how exactly your Membership Program is going to make the most money, most easily.
In Membership Programs, there are commonly 6 different models – but sometimes, Knowledge Commerce marketers like to combine some of these to make their own hybrid model. So what are these commonly used business models? Here’s a quick description of each one:
The Content Drip Feed Model
In this first model, you charge a monthly subscription for access to your members’ library of content, but you ensure that you drip-feed new content incrementally each month – so that you are able to retain existing customers for longer. People stay with your membership because they know something new is being added constantly, and the FOMO factor kicks in – FOMO is “Fear Of Missing Out”.
This model works both with on-website drip-fed content, or emailed drip-fed content. Many people like receiving emails as a sequence because they seem easier to read, rather than reminding themselves to visit your site often. You can combine both emails and website visits, by sending them newsletters that say “Here’s The Latest On Our Membership Site”. Add links to all the new content in your library on the email.
The Full Access From Start Model
In this second model, you charge an upfront bigger fee at start, with smaller monthly subscriptions thereafter, for allowing full to your entire library for all members, right out of the gate. Here you are betting on the upfront money collections with new members as your prime source of income, and not worrying too much about customers who may leave after a few months. You know they’ll do that anyway. So, you calculate that your best bet is to get as much money from them when they join, and in return you also allow them to consume whatever they like from your full library of knowledge content.
The Membership-Around-A-Course Model
In this third model, you build a big, meaty online course as the central node of your Membership Program. The membership to the community of students then becomes a secondary attraction to students. YOu make it even more attractive to them saying you’ll collect your course fee in a straight one-time charge or as three installments, but the students thereafter have lifelong access to your library of content. That way they can keep in touch with the latest content, even after they’ve completed the course – and they can hang out among other students for greater self-motivation.
The Aspirational Community Model
In this fourth model, the Membership Program is intended to perform like a special interest group or club, built around a vast library of content. People come for both reasons – to get more knowledge on their subject of interest, and to intermingle with others who are similarly aspirational. The fees for membership are collected monthly. What makes this model tick is that people stay when they make friendships on your membership site, and don’t want to leave thereafter = because their mutual bondings develop. You become a facilitator of this community bonding, with your library acting as a common hangout for like-minded people.
The Term-Limited Model
In this fifth model, you state that people have to be members at least for a guaranteed term of say, six months. During this term, you offer a special program that takes six months to complete. You, for instance, teach how to start and run an online business and handhold customers for six months till they learn all the ropes. You may choose to charge as a one-time fee or six monthly installments. Thereafter they can continue on your membership if they wish, at no cost. But it’s not mandatory. The attraction here is the project you help them start and run is a guided-learning method. After the project ends, it’s left to them to hang on in the community around the project, or leave.
The SaaS Product Usage Model
In this sixth model, you may have just one big product that people can use, so long as they continue paying monthly for the product’s usage. You see this commonly with most tools online. This is known as the Saas model (Software As A Service). So long as you want to use the tool, you have to pay monthly subscriptions. You can cancel your membership at any time, and can’t use the product thereafter. When products sold like this also have periodic mastermind sessions thrown in as add-ons, they become attractive to those wanting to learn the product usage fully. If it’s a tool with perennial demand, then you can retain members easily.
The Hybrid Model You Innovate With
In this seventh model, you could become an innovative knowledge service provider. You can combine any of the models above into your own multi-benefit idea. Or you could come up with something totally your own concept. A smart entrepreneur I know has started an innovative Membership Program for his affiliates. He offers the affiliate membership only to those who’ve bought his course, and offers hefty commissions of up to 70% for past students who bring in new ones as his new customers. Buyers thus become members of his Affiliates Club, which offers all manner of exclusive-deals and prizes, and more earning opportunities, for those in the Club. Since it’s a multi-tier affiliate system, old affiliates earn also from their second tier-affiliates. All in all, it’s a money-making jamboree that also has the original marketer laughing all the way to the bank.
Having a lot of members helps you earn in other ways too
You can earn from advertisers who want to catch the eye of your members, or even become an influencer for big brands coveting the members you have built. So don’t forget to factor in the extra earnings possible by growing your memberships.
b. Creating New Content Depth For Your Members’ Library
If you have just a small amount of old content you can repurpose to pack into your library for a full-blown Membership Program, you may feel daunted. How on earth are you going to create all the content needed to keep members happy with the quantity and quality of fare?
I have an amazing story to tell you
I had one such entrepreneur as a client who somehow never seemed fazed at the idea. So I asked him how he was so confident that he would have at least fifty meaty pieces of valuable content on his chosen topic for his members’ library in under three weeks. You’d be surprised at his answer to me.
He said, he would just pick up about eight to ten Amazon Kindle books on his chosen topic, sign up for some two or three Udemy courses, and collect a lot of blog posts around his topic that he thought would fit his members’ library. He would then convert every chapter of every Amazon book into his own knowledge product, by rewriting it all in his own style and language, without wasting time on his own topic research.
Then he would similarly convert his Udemy courses’ modules into his own knowledge products. And, finally, he would rewrite all the blog posts he saw as suitable fodder for his library.
These fifty pieces of “pinched but totally rewritten” content would help fill his library with its first bulk of knowledge products. They would all be ebooks as these were the easiest to produce, unlike videos or podcasts or other formats. He’d save enormous time by not doing his own research on topics, if he followed those who had already done the research for him.
When he had these fifty pieces of content in place in under three weeks, he’d decide to then pad up his library by creating his own original knowledge products in slightly diverse formats with a few videos and a few podcasts and other derivatives such as worksheets, templates, PDF docs, and so on. He’d aim to keep on producing at the rate of one per day at a steady pace. By the end of his first year, he expected he would have close to 400 really good knowledge products.
I was initially gobsmacked to hear this plan, but upon reflection, I am all admiration for someone who has such clarity of mind. I also had no doubt that his plan would succeed, seeing his eagerness and readiness for such a challenge.
The additional benefit I was sure he would get is that by going through, assimilating, and rewriting so many books and courses and blog posts on the topic, written by top authors, he would become a subject authority himself in a very short time.
I told him “Be careful you don’t plagiarize. That would kill your young brand.” In reply, he said something I’ll never forget. He said “Pinching from here and there, and using small bits in their existing form, due to laziness, is plagiarism. When I pinch wholesale, and rewrite it all my way, it’s education.”
So how did this story end?
Did he do it? You bet he did.
It all came from being confident that it can be done, and finding a smart way to shorten research time to get his first batch of fifty products. Those who balk at the workload of setting up a membership site with a lot of content, need this confidence and readiness for some grunt work – and not diffidence or laziness.
I must mention here that he launched his Membership Program after he had his initial 50 ebooks, but since he then scaled down to creating just one product per day after that, he was able to give time equally to product creation and marketing of his Membership Program.
c. Firming Up Your Branding, Launch And Pricing Strategy
Three more things to make up your mind about before you start are your Branding Strategy, Your Launch Strategy And Your Pricing Strategy …
Your branding identity must confirm both your topic and your promise
The secret to a great brand name for your Membership Program is to combine your topic and your benefit to consumers in as succinct a way as possible. For instance, let’s say your topic is “pet care” and you want to give value to members by giving them loads of content on “rescuing mutts rather than buying breed dogs”, your simple but effective brand name with tagline name could be “Mutts-TLC: A Membership Program For Care Of Rescued Puppies”
The simpler the brand name the better. Get a domain registered, host a website, and keep the brand identity design colors to a minimum of 3 colors. You’ll need to carry these brand colors to every piece of content you’re going to create, so pick the best colors that go with your topic, and can also extend endlessly without monotony setting in. Preferably give your brand identity one muted color, and one accent color – and add a third color for areas of special highlights.
Decide on a launch date and work backwards to schedule your prep tasks
Not only do you have to create content enough to justify the price you want to charge for your memberships, but you also need to plan how to launch your Membership Program. Here are the questions to consider regarding your launch:
- What do you mean by a “launch”? Is it going to be a soft launch (just an announcement that you are open for memberships) or a hard launch (with a fixed date and events to create fanfare)?
- What elements need to be ready for the launch, including content, promotional material, and outreach to influencers who can help with your launch marketing?
- How can you build a calendar of tasks to complete for the launch? What will you prioritize as tasks to be done before the launch, plus those that must be ongoing after the launch?
- When and what will constitute your beta test for your Membership Program? What parameters of performance would enable you to feel confident your program works like clockwork?
- When, during the prep process, will you publicly announce the launch? (You have to be careful about this, because once you announce a potential date, you will look bad if you keep postponing it.)
- Will you create a wait-list for your program? Many experts say that keeping potential customers waiting a bit to join gives an impression of a lot of demand for your Membership Program. It’s up to you if you want to use this ploy. If you do, make sure you build a wait-list that potential members can sign up for, and get emails to build up excitement and anticipation levels. Some marketers like to start a free Facebook Group to park wait-listed members to keep them in happy mutual discussion and anticipation of the start of the full-blown Membership Program.
Pricing your Membership Program – some pertinent ideas
There are three keys to deciding on pricing:
- Pricing after considering your business model: Depending on how you’ve chosen your business model, you need to consider the level of upfront prices you’ll charge versus the level of ongoing prices. You could look at the nearest online examples of other membership sites to decide on pricing benchmarks in the marketplace. Or you could look at the quality and quantity of your library and see if it can command premium prices. Either way, you also have to estimate likely demand, and decide whether you feel confident of getting a certain minimum number of members to break even, and then make a profit. In general, it’s easier to charge on the higher side and discount if demand is weak, than to do it the opposite way. It really tough to increase prices unless you’ve built a loyal franchise.
- The concept of the anchor pricing in memberships: Often you’ll find that membership sites set extremely high prices for their topmost level of membership. The price actually would be prohibitive (even if they seem to offer a lot for it). But do these levels of memberships sell? No, they don’t. And neither does the entrepreneur care. These are “anchor prices”. “Anchor prices” help to signal to customers that even the lower-priced offerings of the site will be of a certain premium level. When you create your anchor offer, you set the expectation of quality in the mind of your customer. But you know that they will only buy your lower-priced membership. This is actually a common marketing tactic. A kitchen gadget maker will first show you his $5000 model, to get you to buy what he then shows you – the $500 model.
- Membership sites earn through volumes of customers: With Membership Programs, the volume of customers you have at any given time will determine your profitability. As a business owner, you have to know what your costs are per month. Only then will you know how many customers you need to maintain per month, despite the likely churn. The math is simple enough. See what the average customer spends per month on membership. Decide your target revenue per month to cover all costs plus good profit. Divide your revenue target by your average spend per customer, to know how many customers you’ll need to hold per month. As I said, the math is simple. It’s the doing that’s the challenge.
4. Equipping Your Website With The Right Tech Tools
This section is important but easy to do – more than 90% of your work can be done by a good membership plugin. You have to learn to keep your regular website as a promotional context for the Membership Program – and keep the Membership Program as a separate gated area within that context. We also cover some key aspects of beta testing your program, so it’s well-oiled before you enrol members.
a. Tools To Help You Build A Membership Program
You don’t need to go far to find a perfect tool to set up your Membership Program. There are lots of great tools dedicated to helping you build a whole membership site out of the box. In fact, if you’re a WordPress user, like millions of solopreneurs online, it’s so much easier, because you get very affordable plugins. These require just a few tweaks and customizations after installation.
Some of the well-known plugins for Membership Programs are these …
Of these, my favorite is the WP eMember (first on my list). There’s are three reasons why I like this one a lot. For one, it has a one-time price of just $59.95 – no recurring costs. Secondly, it has fabulous after sales support via a forum. And thirdly, the database of members is kept separate from the WordPress user database on the site. This helps a lot, because your members don’t get all mixed up with other site users you may have, who may be people from other programs or services on your site.
Most membership plugins will give you more or less the same features and functionalities for your Membership Program, including the ecommerce set up, whereby you can collect subscriptions using commonly trusted online payment gateways. To get an idea of what comes with the WP eMember plugin, see this feature-tour video …
WP Emember Features Overview
WP eMember (and other similar plugins) also enable loads of integrations with other plugins, and have lots of practical training videos to show you the ropes of setting up and running a Membership Program.
b. Shaping Your Website For Its Gated Areas
One important thing to watch out for, when you’re using a plugin to build your Membership Program, is that your website has a design that easily accommodates the Membership Program as one of its sections – while the rest of the site acts as the promotional area to support the sales of more memberships. Now how do you achieve this?
Making sure your website is geared towards helping you sell more memberships
A great website is one that has all of the following features. Make sure yours does too:
- Your website masthead needs to carry your overall site branding, and its colors, in a way that can be extended also to your gated Membership Program which you set up inside the site. Ensure your masthead is not too elaborate, or it will eat up too much space on members’ only pages.
- Your site’s main menu or navigation bar, right from the home page, needs to have a link to your Membership Program. Clicking it should lead to your Members’ Login/Join Us page.
Doubtless your site may have a blog … and maybe you have other knowledge products you sell through your site, like ebooks and short courses, which are not part of your Membership Program. Your site has to lead people up the price journey to buy low-priced products to higher-priced products from you and eventually gain the trust to become a member of your program. How do you do this? You need to create an environment that builds trust in gradual steps if you want to sell a membership that costs recurring money.
- Every blog post has to be tacked on with a CTA (Call-To-Action) that links to the sales page of a relevant ebook.
- The “Thank You For Your Ebook Purchase Pages” must have a CTA leading to the sales pages of a suitable short course.
- The “Thank You For Your Course Purchase Pages” must lead to the sales page for the Membership Program.
- When people arrive at your Membership Program sales page, there has to be enough information, and maybe even an FAQ section, to encourage joining – plus a workflow to join, choose a plan, sign up and confirm registration. This needs to be followed up by an email sequence that contains a receipt of payment, confirmation of recurring payment dates, an onboarding welcome email and some emails encouraging a tour of the features of the members’ only section dashboard.
You get the gist … your website has to act as a whole to lead people to buy your main product – Your Membership Program – so there has to be everything needed for potential members to be nurtured and led via the other sections of your site towards your Membership Program sign-ups.
The diagram below shows you at a glance, what we’ve explained above … use this kind of structure when you build your site.
(Click on image to view enlarged version.)
Building your Membership Program dashboards with clear signposting
Inside the gated section of your Membership Site, the most important thing to follow is clear structure and navigation. Members should be able to see at a glance what features the program has and how to get to them. This is usually done by allowing logged-in members to arrive at a dashboard page from where all the content and activities of the members’ area can be viewed and accessed.
Lack of clear signposting is the feature that kills most Membership Programs – and clarity of signposting is among the features most expected and appreciated by members.
Here’s a diagram to show you the elements a dashboard can contain …
You can have more than one arrival dashboard page if you have a membership program with different membership plan levels. Show people only what they have paid for. Don’t have a common dashboard with many buttons saying “Upgrade to see this section”.
Many marketers think it is a smart idea that can upsell. But think of how members will feel if they are shown things they haven’t bought? They will feel constantly as if they have bought an inferior membership.
Let members’ dashboards only show what they get for their level of membership. Tuck in a discreet footnote to tempt them with more if they upgrade.
c. Beta Testing Your Membership Program Features
It’s a good idea to ru a beta test at this stage of progress to see if all parts of your site are running smoothly, and providing a good user experience.
What is beta testing and how do you run a beta test?
Beta testing is a way of getting a handful of potential customers and some technical specialists to assess and validate your Membership Program for functionality, usability, reliability, and technological robustness. Since you want accurate feedback from the panel of people you select for the beta test, it cannot be a controlled activity. You have let your panel loose to discover things on your site themselves, and see where they get. After they have been given sufficient time to see everything they want to, then collect feedback.
When you set up a panel for your beta testing, make sure you include a few people from all these areas:
- Some potential users who may opt for the different payment plans and levels of access you propose to offer as part of your program.
- Some technical people to see if the program’s back-end is well-built and robust.
- Some UX experts to see if your site’s front-end enables a great user-experience.
- Some engineers from your webhosting company to see if your site can handle a rush of people all using the site at the same time.
Collect feedback, iron out glitches, tweak areas that are unsatisfactory, and get another round of review from the beta testing panel. If you get a thumbs up from all quarters, I guess you’re good to go.
5. Making Your Member Experience Topnotch
Your Membership Program is not quite complete unless you have designed a strategy to keep your members delighted. Firstly, you have to make them feel very welcome and introduce them to your program through a great “onboarding” process. Once they are well into the program as regular users, you have to keep them engaged with new attractions, lots of activity they can do, and lots of fresh knowledge they can gain, in diverse formats. And finally, you have to think hard about how you are going to retain existing customers, preventing a too frequent churn.
a. Member Onboarding And Follow Up Processes
An “onboarding process” is nothing but “making the new member welcomed”. There are a series of steps you can take to make every member feel like he or she is entering a club where the host is warm, gracious, helpful, and facilitating.
Here are a few ideas that you must consider adding to your onboarding process. Many of these are time-tested methods that most members have learned to expect.
Make the member onboarding process smooth, friendly and friction-free
- Start with a great “Thanks For Joining Us Page”: This is the one that will immediately follow the completion of the payment process and member registration. You can include a short video message from yourself, if you wish. Make sure to give the new member a pat on the back for a good decision taken. Also, tell the new member to look in his email inbox for more onboarding help from you.
- Pre-write a sequence of welcome emails: There are at least three or four emails you must send in a sequence within the next few minutes. The reason for not lumping it all in one email is to make it all easier for the new member to assimilate.
- Your first email should reiterate the warm welcome to your community, and confirm the member’s choice to join. Give the member the method to log into your Membership Program dashboard.
- The second email must invite the member to a tour of the features on your program, according to the plan he has bought. List the features on your email, and give links to a “Feature Tour Video” on your site.
- The third email can encourage completion of the new member’s profile on your site, and include an invite to the members’ forum – where the member can drop in an “introducing myself” posting.
- The fourth email can include sections of the program that you want to suggest as the best starting places for the member.
- Over the next 4 weeks, send an “Are you doing OK?” kind of email, every 3-4 days: Enquire if the new member has any difficulties or any doubts to clarify. Ask if he is enjoying the experience and has made new friends in your community. Ask if he is getting familiar with the layout of your content library and getting what he is looking for.
- Thereafter, about once a week, send an update email: Announce what’s new in the members’ library, or what new online events or mastermind sessions have been scheduled – and what the member needs to do to get his questions answered in special webinars or Q&A sessions.
b. Growing Your Member Engagement Ideas
Members of any Membership Program don’t just decide one fine day to cancel their memberships. It usually happens after a period of waning interest. So, it will help you a lot if your eye is always on “less-active” or “inactive” members on your list. You have to find ways to reach out to them to rejig interest in something new.
This naturally means you have to have something new on your program, periodically, that can keep people excited and on their toes.
As we’ve already mentioned before, people value Membership Programs for the group activities. That’s why you must calendarize ideas like these to create “events” where everybody is invited.
A bunch of ideas for events you can offer as part of your Membership Program
There are at least four types of events you can create:
- Scheduled events that take place like clockwork: These could include scheduled fortnightly or monthly webinars, masterminds, Q&A sessions, or workshops built around a topic of high interest. People must know how often these will take place and there should be a calendar of such events always available to check through. Members must be invited to send in questions or ideas by certain deadlines. All this keeps people engaged and busy.
- Sudden events that come as happy surprises: Maybe you’ve got hold of an A-List influencer that people would love to hear from. You can schedule an impromptu streaming of an interview on in-between dates that don’t interfere with your scheduled events. Everyone likes a happy surprise that punctuates a regular routine.
- You can create some special “theme weeks” and invite participation on the forum: For example, you could have a week themed as “Raves & Rants Week” and invite members to air their applause and angst against some new tech that both excites and baffles them.
- It’s a great idea to rally support for a “social cause” relevant to your Membership Program topic: People always love to be bonded into being “socially active” – so you could build excitement periodically around a “cause” your members could collectively support.
These are just a few ideas for creating those days of higher excitement and engagement than usual. These will also help you spot the active members from the inactive ones, so you can give the latter some extra TLC.
c. Handling The Challenge Of Member Retention
Members leaving your Membership Program after a few months is not a disaster. It is par for the course. It happens, and the only way to keep your earnings up is to find new members faster than the rate at which old members leave. Nevertheless, there is a right way to handle the challenge of leaving members, and a wrong way.
The right way to handle members when they leave
- Accept their cancellation requests with readiness. Make sure to ask them once if they are sure. If they still want to leave, be prompt in stopping their further subscriptions and do what’s needed to close their accounts. Thank them for being a member and say you hope they enjoyed their time with your program.
- Remember, they have left your Membership program, but until they unsubscribe from your emailing list, you can still be occasionally be in touch via email. Send them monthly “What’s New In Our Membership Program” email newsletters. Sometimes, these work well in renewing interest in re-joining.
The wrong way to handle members when they leave
- Don’t send out those emails that say, “We miss you … come back!” Nothing is less professional than that. Badgering with emotionality doesn’t help your brand. Neither does it really work.
- Don’t ever devalue your membership by saying “If you stay back, or come back, you can enjoy a three month discount on membership fees and after that, the fee will revert to the original plan you were on.” Marketers think this is smart, but in truth, you are just delaying their departure for three months at the most. When prices are down they may stay, but when prices go up again, that will intensify their earlier decision to leave.
6. Marketing Of Your Membership Program
As we have said before, Membership Programs are by no means a “passive income” idea. Just as you have to constantly create fresh knowledge products for your members to consume, you also have to do consistent and regular marketing for new member acquisition, because it’s a given that some old members will inevitably leave.
Besides consistent marketing, it’s also a great idea to have a set of “evergreen webinars” on the ready to regularly beam out special member-attracting promotions. Finally, all this is of no use if you’re not tracking the performance of your program – but you have to know what to track.
a. Designing Your Consistent Marketing Plan
By far, the simplest and most effective way to market your Membership Program is by blogging every day, and posting updates of your blog daily on social media channels. This keeps you top-of-mind in various ways online, and helps you do your marketing simply and with best results. You don’t have to do any other form of marketing if you don’t have the budget for it. Blogging and social updating are free. Exploit these avenues fully.
How blogging works over time to build your brand and recognition
People online don’t come to buy memberships right away. They like to evaluate before buying. They like to hear the reviews of their friends and peers about any Membership Program they are considering. They want to use their own judgment, so they don’t buy on the say-so of the seller.
Given this climate of “evaluation” that happens online all the time, sales of products are a result of information-gathering. Sales become a by-product of the quality of promotional information your brand puts out. After reading many of your articles and posts around a topic of interest, your readers grow to trust your word – and then when you make a purchase recommendation, and have the program to offer, they become predisposed to accepting your word as an authority on that topic. They do as you say.
This method of consistent marketing – called “content marketing” – is a direct antithesis to pushy hard-sell advertising. Content marketing is THE ONLY WAY anything can be sold online, because that is the nature of the online marketing beast. There is no other way people online will buy anything.
That’s why blogging is so important. Repeated and regular publishing of blog posts from you, on your niche topic, gradually builds market trust in you as a subject authority – and then you can sell what you want to, when sufficient trust is built. In fact, as more and more trust, allowing you to sell products of higher prices. It all begins and grows with your blogging.
Using social media to amplify your blogging
Once you start blogging, all you need to do is to open accounts with the big social media channels like Twitter, Facebook Pages, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. Make several excerpts of your blog posts, and post them into a tool like MeetEdgar. Since MeetEdgar is an automatic, “rotational-social-posting” tool, it will pick and post one of your updates at the schedule you set, to one or more of the social channels – without you having to remember to do so.
Here’s how I use MeetEdgar. I make a small version of the main image of my post (450pc x 220px) which fits most social channels, and paste my blog post title on the picture. Then in MeetEdgar I include this image with many variations of updates from my blog post, picking some key sentences from my blog post to do this, and using appropriate hashtags, and links back to my blog posts.
I put this whole set of say, 15 social-update variations of each blog post into MeetEdgar. I then set it up with a schedule to post to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social accounts about 4 times per day. Like clockwork, MeetEdgar posts my social messages’ variations randomly, on all channels, thus amplifying my blog posts many times over. Easy isn’t it?
See an image below of my Twitter timeline, as an example … see how I have kept a “brand look” for my social postings and yet provide a variety of promotional updates linking to my various blog posts.
b. Building Evergreen Webinars To Promote Your Program
One of the most effective tools to promote and market a Membership Program is a webinar. A good 45-60 minute session delivered as a webinar, on the key topic of your Membership Program, would allow you to introduce and highlight all the value you offer in your program. You can make webinars part of a regular marketing schedule, and “advertise” your next webinar dates and timings on your social channels, to your mailing list subscribers, and even add a banner to your site.
But how do you find time to create and run such webinars, you ask? It’s easy if you create “evergreen webinars”.
Evergreen webinars are webinars that you can record once, and replay again and again
Evergreen webinars are also known as automated or on-demand webinars. How do they work? You can record webinars once, and can replay them again and again thereafter. They look and feel like live webinars. You have a speaker teaching something – or a marketer selling something. But you also have a simulated side-panel to the main teaching screen. It acts as if live discussions are taking place among attendees. The speaker can even answer some of these questions from these “attendees”. People would then feel even more like they are attending a live webinar.
EverWebinar is my all-time favorite tool for creating my own evergreen webinars. How did I learn to use EverWebinar? I watched this video below, and after that life was uber-easy.
This video, from Ferdy Korpershoek, is 40 minutes long … but it covers top-to-toe of how to set up and use EverWebinar. Go through it fully, is what I’d advise. That’s all you need to know to get going!
c. Tracking Your Membership Program Performance
Experts will give you various ways of monitoring the performance of your Membership Programs. But I’d like to emphasize just four things to track, as below:
- Your earnings and profits: The aim here should be to not only increase your earnings over time, but also your profitability. No point in earning more if you’re also spending more, and losing the profit-increase.
- Your website traffic and conversions: The more traffic you have the more chances of increasing your earnings – provided you are converting site visitors into buyers. So both traffic and conversions are equally important.
- Your Membership Program’s churn rate: As we know, there will be the challenge of members leaving. But is your rate of member acquisition greater than the numbers of members who leave? You won’t know how many new members to get every month, if you haven’t been tracking how many leave on average every month.
- Your members’ additional spends on your site: If you have affiliate products you are selling to members, or your own other knowledge products, you may like to see how much extra you are earning from members, besides their monthly subscriptions. You can also include here the membership plan upgrades you are able to encourage. Making existing members buy more from you can become an added healthy source of revenue, so it’s not something to sneeze at.
In Summary …
- Before starting a Membership Program, it helps to fully understand its pros and cons, and to understand what customers value a lot about such programs.
- First, find the right topic idea to make your program differentiated and valuable, and then find the target audience segments to attract by offering access to topnotch knowledge content.
- Next, consider and decide on your membership business model, the structure and contents of your library of knowledge products, and your membership plans and pricing strategy.
- More than 90% of your work can be done by a good membership plugin that works out of the box, but still, beta test your program so it’s well-oiled before you enroll members.
- Your Membership Program is not quite complete unless you have a strategy to keep your members delighted – focus on onboarding, ongoing engagement and customer retention.
- Membership Programs are by no means a “passive income” idea. You have to constantly create fresh knowledge products, and do consistent marketing to offset customer churn.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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