10 Things To Know Before You Start A Membership Business Model or Create Your Membership Program
I love memberships.
I love the business model.
I even had one myself for 3 or 4 years.
And I have worked with many, many membership owners on their marketing, sales funnels and helping them structure and communicate their membership content.
If you’re looking for guidance on how to create your membership program or whether to adopt a membership business model, here are 10 things I want you to know before you get too far in.
1. You Need A Bigger Pond To Fish From
Before launching my membership (back in 2015), I’d only worked 1-1 with clients on their copywriting projects.
I found most of my clients through word-of-mouth referrals, so I didn’t need to do much marketing.
When I first launched my membership, I already had 30-40 very warm leads ready to buy. They were the reason I’d created the membership because they were asking me for it.
So the initial launch of the membership went well, without any paid advertising, and with little marketing effort.
I closed the membership for a few months so I could get settled into this new way of working, and prepare a launch plan to re-open (and keep open) the doors.
But when I did the maths, I needed to generate a much bigger online audience to have any chance of adding more members.
Everyone in my current audience had already heard about the membership and made their decision whether to join or not.
Some may have decided to join later down the line, but what I really needed was to get in front of new people.
It’s fine to go ahead and launch when you’ve got a line of people eagerly asking you to join your membership. But remember that’s probably the easiest sales you’ll make, and after that you will need a strategy to consistently get in front of new people, warm them up and introduce them to your membership.
2. You Can Get Specialist Membership Site Support For FREE!!!!
The only program I’d seen offering help with setting up and launching a membership site cost $2,000!!! (I think now it might even be $3,000).
So I’d been going it alone for a while when someone connected me with The Membership Geeks…..who, unsurprisingly enough, are all about membership sites. They have a free Facebook group, and an epic podcast and an enormous library of content that can help you be free.
If you want to upgrade and join their paid membership (affiliate link) they have $39 and $65 options at the time of publishing this post, and it’s brilliant. I don’t have a membership anymore, but I’m still a member because lots of the resources work well for my courses and mentorship.
It’s also worth looking into the resources provided by membership platforms. My courses are hosted on MemberVault (affiliate link) - you can probably guess from the name that it is also suitable for memberships, and they have plenty of training available for their users. I think you have to be a paid-up MemberVault user to access these, but still for $99 per month you get the platform and the training.
Head over to Kajabi (affiliate link) and under the Resources tab in the menu bar you’ll find Kajabi University which includes 4 or 5 tutorials to help you create your membership program.
3. Do It Your Way
I really wanted to have an Always Open Membership site (affiliate link to a course from Elizabeth Goddard that teaches how to market these) - which would mean no launch cycles, just gentle, continuous marketing, and people signing up to the site when they needed it.
I’d seen other people have success with launching once or twice per year, but I did not want that stress in my life.
I’d seen others steadily and successfully build their membership by having the doors open all the time (like the Membership Academy).
But when I tried that, nobody joined….nobody. Lots of people said they would join soon. But they didn’t.
I decided to offer an onboarding call with all new people, but because I wanted to get those calls out of the way in the first week of the month, I closed the doors until the 28th of each month. And - bingo - people joined. As soon as they realised their option of joining would go away for four weeks at a time, they wanted in.
I had figured out my own promo strategy.
There is only so much you can learn from seeing other people do things. They aren’t you. They aren’t running your business. And they don’t have the same audience as you.
Test, research, experiment, and find out what works for your membership.
And that goes for how your structure the membership, what’s included what you charge, everything - not just how you promote and sell it.
4. You May Need To Tough It Out At First
Because you’re plodding away creating content, for your original members who are paying £47 each and you’re fretting about all the client work you’ve turned down to be able to earn that few hundred quid (numbers are completely fictional - you can charge what you want).
Just like pulling the lorry in the World’s Strongest Man competition, getting started is the hardest.
Then after a while it starts to snowball (in a good way).
Your bank of content grows and your users start consuming more, which makes them happier to stay and to tell their friends.
They start getting wins which make you feel good, motivates the other members and you can use in your marketing to attract more members.
Members start engaging with you, and each other, which sparks new content ideas, or ways to improve the membership, and now you’ll feel more like it’s a collective effort rather than you dragging that lorry up the hill, all by yourself.
5. The narrower you go, the quicker you’ll grow
The nichest niche membership I ever worked with had a potential global target audience of around 200 women. But within a year, a huge percentage of them had joined, because there was nothing else in the world offering what this membership offered, and word spread quickly. You can hear more about that in this Behind The Membership Podcast episode (hosted by my biz-crush Callie Willows). Listen to more of those episodes and you’ll find plenty of examples of successful businesses in nichey-niches.
6. There is no right price
You do not have to charge low. Or high. You can charge whatever you want.
It’s always easier to start low and go up, and each time you adjust the price up you can run a promotion and that’ll encourage a little flurry of people to join.
But it’s also possible to move from a higher price to a lower price (as long as you adjust that for the existing members too). I did that when I when I wanted to change what was included in my membership and Lizzy Goddard did the same with her membership.
Want more help with this? I have a blog post on how to make pricing decisions.
7. You don’t have to endlessly create content
But there will come a point when your members have plenty enough content, and you’re running out of ideas, and your energy would be better invested going back over existing content and improving it, or helping your members in some other way.
And then if you’ve built your membership around the promise of ‘fresh batch of content delivered regularly’ - you might feel kinda awkward about that.
Your options are:
- Don’t even start promising a set amount of new content at a specified frequency
- Or if you do start like that, you can change your mind later. If people continue to pay you the monthly fee AFTER you’ve communicated your change in content creation strategy then they’ve agreed to the new approach and you don’t owe them new content. If people have paid upfront for future months on the promise that there will be new content coming at them weekly/monthly/whatever-frequency-you-said, then maybe they’ll be annoyed at the change and want a pro-rata refund, but based on what I’ve seen that’s not going to happen. I’ve worked with a handful of membership owners who have made significant changes to their membership and most (almost always) their existing members, including ones who have paid upfront, are totally fine with it once the reasons are explained, and if anything they’re a little relieved that they’re not being buried under a continuous stream of new material.
8. Don’t let your members drown in content soup
No, you’re not creating a 12-step programme that everyone works through together.
But at the same time, if you leave it to be a totally unstructured free-for-all your members will get confused and leave, because nobody wants to be in place that makes them feel confused.
9. You don’t have to put ALL your content into the membership forever and ever
But it is also totally fine for your membership to have a clearly defined scope, and for you to sell courses or other offers that fall outside of that scope. You can give your members a discount if you want to, but you don’t owe them that - it’s totally up to you.
Selling stand-alone offers can be a great way to draw new people into your business because they’ll be happier paying a one-off fee for something at first, rather than making an ongoing commitment to your membership. Then once they’ve realised how fabulous you are, they’re more likely to join the membership.
10. You can sell membership materials separately
Remember how I just told you that it’s easier for brand new people to make a one-off purchase than to sign-up for an ongoing membership (you should remember, it was one sentence ago).
You can sell a training from your membership as a standalone offer, and then:
- Suggest they join the membership instead, for example - ‘get this training for $97, or join my membership and get access to this and all my other training for just $47’ (pricing totally made up)
- Or wait until after they’ve bought the standalone offer and then give them a 5-day window to upgrade, like this - ‘love this training? There’s plenty more where that came from. This masterclass was taken from my XYZ academy. Would you like to join us for a month, for just $1?’
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