In this episode, we're going to conclude a 3 part series on membership sites.
I'm in the middle of building a membership site for launch in a few months and I wanted to give you a behind the scenes look at what it takes to plan, build, and launch a membership site.
In the previous two episodes, we talked about planning and building, in this episode, we'll talk about launching a membership site.
In this episode you'll learn:
- Deciding when to launch and what to launch with in terms of content and features
- Marketing and promoting your launch
- Managing the launch process and the first month of running your site
- Be sure to check out the Plan and Build episodes of this series
- Start by making sure your foundation is solid using my WordPress Blog Blue Print and Planner:
Links and resources mentioned in this episode:
Transcript DownloadDownload a PDF of the Transcript
Hey everybody, Dave Ziembicki here. Welcome to StrongStart.fm. My mission is to help you design, automate and outsource the technology of your online business. In this episode we’re going to conclude a three part series on membership sites. I’m in the middle of building a membership site for launch in a few months and I wanted to give you a behind the scenes look at what it takes to plan and build and launch a membership site.
In the previous two episodes, we talked about the planning and building and then in this episode, we’re going to conclude by talking about launching your membership site. I’m going to break the launch process down into three parts.
Deciding when to launch and what to launch with, in terms of content in the futures. Marketing and promoting your launch. And then managing launch process in the first month of running your membership site. Now, as I mentioned, I’m in the middle of planning and building my membership so on this launch topics, I’m basically giving you a behind the scenes look at my planning.
Once I do launch and get through that first month, I’ll come back and do an episode on the lessons learned, what worked, what didn’t work and so forth. The first element of launch planning is deciding when to launch your site.
Now, the decision is a balance between how much content and features you need to have on day one, how much extra content you’ll have already created for the next month or two after you launch. Whether you have a pre-launch or a beta period for a small set of members and some other similar considerations.
In working with Mike Morrison and Callie Willows over at the Member Site Academy, one of the things that they really highlight is that you don’t need a massive amount of content ready at launch. The thing that you’re always balancing with a membership site is, how much content to have and how much value to provide? Versus overwhelming your members with too many things and causing a lot of confusion of “Where do I start.”
There’s a hundred courses in here I’ll never be able to manage all of that content. So you know, what you’re looking for is a balance between one course or minimal content – somebody coming in and saying, “Why did I just sign up for $50 a month for this membership site when there’s nothing in here? Versus the other end of the spectrum – waiting a year or two or longer to launch.
Because you think that you need this gigantic content library in order to launch your site. The balance is really in the middle. Really, what they recommend and what I recommend and what I’m doing, is having a core set of content at launch that is super focused on the main topic of your membership site.
If you think about whatever your target market or your target niche is, and you’ve done some surveying or you’ve done some research and you know what the top three issues are of people in that particular niche or topic area – then that’s really, it should form the core of your content. You want to maybe have one or two things related to each of those core challenges that your users have.
So that when somebody opts in and buy into your membership site, that first experience of what they see, even if it is only a little bit of content is going to be, “This is stuff that really directly addresses my needs.” That’s really the feeling that you want your launch content to engender in people is, “Yeah, this is definitely the place that I want to be because I already see that there’s some things that are going to address some of my core issues here.”
For me, as you know, my tag line is helping people design, automate and outsource the technology of their online business. My launch content will be at least one course in each of those topics.
I’m also targeting people that are both new to online entrepreneurs as well as those that have existing businesses that they want to scale. There’ll also be some content in there that’s targeted to each of those groups because obviously, the challenges that – of those two segments are going to be quite different.
You know, the person just starting out in online business, they may be struggling with WordPress and podcasting and some of the basics of getting their platform setup. Whereas somebody else that already has a business going, their struggles might be around.
How do I do email automation or how do I scale my team virtually? Because I’m out of time as my business is growing. There’s a number of different things there that through the research and survey process that I’m doing where I’ll have good data backing up the key challenges of each of this different dimensions that I’m segmenting my audience by. That’s how I’m going to tune my launch content to make sure I have something that addresses each of those segments.
Eventually, my strategy is the content library approach. I’ll eventually have dozens of courses and hundreds of resources but for launch, I only need that smaller set. That might wind up being three to five courses at launch.
Another thing that Mike and Callie stressed is being careful not to over focus on courses. Those tend to be the highest cost and the highest amount of time to produce of all your different content types and they also take the most amount of time to complete for your audience.
If you’re going to have a hundred courses and each of those courses takes a week or two to work through, again, that’s going to be overwhelming to people. The thing to remember is that courses aren’t the only way to have value inside of a membership site. There’s other things you can add in there like checklist, resource guides, shorter form tutorials, discounts from software partners and more.
There’s a lot of things that you can build in to the value of your site and not all of those are going to require hundreds of hours on your part to produce. You know, one of the examples that Mike talks about a lot is you know, if you’re in any space that has software or has associated equipment or gear or products that are required.
You can do some hustle and work with those vendors and see if you can get some special discounts for your members and say, basically, well maybe I’ll give up an affiliate commission in returns for giving me some kind of discount code that I can offer up to my members.
You know, you’re making revenue off it by getting people into your membership site so you can give them that discount on that product and that’s something that maybe only takes you an email or two to get that discount from the vendor and then that becomes a piece of value that you can have inside of your membership site.
Again, not all of it has to be these multi day courses that take weeks and weeks to plan and build, there’s a lot of different content types that you can add into your membership that add value but that may have a little bit of a better ROI on your time.
The key obviously is finding the right mix of content types and quantities to deliver the value to support your pricing strategy. If you’re going to have a high-end price, like $100 to $200 a month for a membership site, you’re definitely going to need to have a lot of stuff in there a huge amount of value to justify that type of recurring cost to your members.
Now, if you're going to start out and say, you know, with a $30 a month type of membership and then maybe with a plan to go to $50 a month in your first year – then you can start with less content and build it up over the year and raise your prices accordingly.
Finally, once you decide what content to have on day one of your site launch, you should also have, at the ready, the content you plan to release over the next two to three months.
There’s two reasons for this. First, during the initial weeks after launch, you want to be engaging with in supporting your members and given them a great experience that they remain in your membership and hopefully share it with their network of friends and colleagues.
You don’t want to have to be worrying about creating new content during that period of time, that first month after launch, you really want to be focused on your members and supporting them.
Second, as soon as you have any members, you need to be thinking about retention. The key to the membership model is retaining your members as long as you can. One way to retain those early members is by telling them about the content that you’ll be releasing in the second and third month.
What that means is as they’re consuming your launch content – what you want to be making sure of is doing things like saying, “Hey, next month, we’re going to be releasing this next course” or “In the second month we think we’re going to be having some additional discounts coming in from some of our partners.”
Or any other pieces of content that you might already have done that you can say, “Look, there is additional stuff coming in month two and month three.” What you’re doing there is letting them know, yeah, there’s more coming to this membership than just this launch content because again, that might be a relatively small number of resources.
So, people might be on the fence of, “Well, should I continue paying the 30, 50, $100 a month, not knowing what might be coming next?” By putting that plan out there, and especially in cases where it’s the content you already have created then you’re going to be able to deliver on that promise that you’re making to those folks.
If you create some grandiose content schedule and you start falling behind, and you promise that to your users, that’s where you can get yourself into some trouble there. Again, the guidance is to have two to three months’ worth of content created by launch. But in that first month of launch, only put a certain amount of that content into the site. The last part about deciding when to launch comes down to the time of year.
Obviously, you want to avoid holiday periods in most cases unless your membership site has something to do with a particular holiday. Another thing that I found is that you probably want to avoid the time periods when any of the other big names in online business are in the middle of their launch periods.
Now, this is obviously only a concern if you’re doing something related to online business. So in my case, you know, since it is about design, outsourcing technology and so forth, this is something I have to watch out for. If your niche is fitness or exercise or other things, you know, then this might not matter as much or you might need to tune it to your particular topic area.
The idea is, try not to have your launch and your promotion stuff happening in the middle of some of the big name launches that are happening out there. In online business, you know, when somebody like Jeff Walker or Marie Forlio or some of the other really big names in online business tend to launch something, they just overwhelm people’s inboxes both with their direct messages and with the army of affiliates that they employ for your launches.
During their couple of week launch periods, you just cannot get away from whatever it is that they’re launching. If you're just new to the space, like I am, your messages and your promotions are really going to get lost in sort of the deluge of things that are coming from those types of folks.
The thing is a lot of those folks market on a predictable schedule. You can look back through your emails and say, well, Jeff always does his things these times of the year, Marie always does hers around these times of the year and you can look to work around those to the extent possible.
Once you have that launch date set, the next step is to work on marketing and promoting your launch. For me, I’m finding this part, the marketing and promoting of the membership site a big challenge.
There’s just so many different strategies and tactics for launches and promotions, yeah, the topic alone can be multiple episodes, books or course. The hard part is drawing a boundary and trying to cram in every possible strategy.
It’s easy to sit there and think, “Well, you know, contests are good and ads are good and all these different things so I’m going to try and do all of them.” But if you’re trying to do all of them, you’re not going to really do any of that well.
Here’s just a short list of some of the things you could be thinking about. There’s content marketing, there’s all the different forms of advertising, you can do contest, virtual summits, you can do a live video strategy or recorded video strategy, you could do email courses, webinars, courier discount and trials, the list goes on and on.
There’s just many more strategies and tactics that you can use and each of those alone have entire courses on how to use those strategies. My main recommendation is to pick one of those and really go deep on perfecting it.
Once you’ve done that, you can add a few additional strategies that magnify that core strategy. Just as an example, if you’re going to use a Jeff Walker style, three-part video series, then make sure you perfect that and really learn everything about that strategy and doing it well.
Then once you have tested that, you can magnify it with Facebook ads or some of the other things that we’re talking about here. In my case, as you know, from previous episodes, my core promotion strategy is the virtual summit that I’m putting together.
Now, I covered that in depth in episode 24 and you can find that at StrongStart.fm/024. I chose the virtual summit approach for three reasons. First, I needed a significant list building event at launch to build up more of a warm audience for my follow-on promotions of the membership site.
I hope to gain an additional 2,000 to 5,000 email subscribers through the summit. That’s a big jump in the email subscribers that I’m hoping to get and that will basically bring me to about a 5,000-person email list at the conclusion of the summit.
At that point, that’s a big enough list to start promoting some higher ticket products to the membership site. The second reason is that a summit provides a huge amount of content to include inside the membership site.
I’ll have 30 hours of video content with experts in my topic areas, each of those is going to turn into hundreds of pieces of additional content through repurposing. Even though it’s one of the marketing strategies that has the highest amount of effort required.
Virtual summit takes months to plan and execute and deliver. At the end of it though, you basically get a year’s worth of content that you can use inside both your free and paid content channels.
And the third reason is the summit really helps you build relationships with other influencers in your topic area and gets their content in front of your audiences. For the most part most of the speakers at your summit are at least going to do a little bit of promotion of your summit to their audience. So don’t say things like, “Hey I participated in this virtual summit, why don’t you check it out?”
And then as they come into it, they’re obviously getting exposure to you and your other content because you would be the host of that summit. So there in is basically a win-win scenario. In my case, I am building up some relationships with these influencers and I’m also going to be able to get some exposure in front of their audience.
So it is basically a great way for somebody who is new to a target market, like I am in this part of online business. It’s a great way to build authority by association with those other influencers. So overall my marketing and promotion plan is the following: I am going to promote the virtual summit via social media, affiliate programs with the speakers and Facebook ads.
I’m going to execute the virtual summit and build my email list and at the end of that summit week, I am going up early access to my membership site and I am basically going to do that via a closing webinar in the virtual summit.
So the key here is the alignment of all of my free content, the content inside the virtual summit and then the membership site. So what I mean by that is this podcast episodes and my blog posts they are all related to my core topic: Design, automate and the technology of your online business and what the summit is about, is same thing.
I’ll be interviewing experts in online business and how they do those things. How do they do their technology and their content, how do they do and leverage automation, what parts do they outsource and how do they do that and to whom? So the virtual summit is going to be all about my core topic areas and at the end of the summit what I’m going to be able to say is:
“Hey, if you want to learn now to execute on these strategies and these things that all these experts have just told you, here’s my membership site. There is going to be courses, there’s going to be checklists.” There’s going to be all kinds of things in there that are again, directly related to that topic area. So I think that alignment of the free content.
The virtual summit which is also free with a small paid component and then the membership site which is my main paid product, the alignment of all of those things is really the key to these strategies and why I chose this particular combination of them.
So again, at the end of the summit, they’ll be that close in webinar where I announce the launch of the membership and I go through some demonstrations and show the value and the benefits of all the content that is in there. The other thing that is making this take a little while is that I am building in a bunch of automation and some other strategies to this.
But basically after that first round of promotion, then summit, then membership launch webinar –I’m going to turn that entire flow into an evergreen funnel where either monthly or quarterly, I’ll be able to rerun the exact same process. I’ll turn on the ads again, I’ll rerun the summit to new parts of the audience and then I will do that membership webinar at the end of it to promote my membership site.
So that is basically going to turn into an evergreen funnel that will be able to run basically automated. And whenever I want to, I can turn that webinar back into a live webinar and come in and do that and I may well do that and just say, “Okay, well everything else by that last webinar will be pre-recorded and automated and then maybe monthly or quarterly, I’ll come in and do that live webinar”.
One of the people that I interviewed for the virtual summit is John Lee Dumas and he is a huge believer in the weekly or monthly live webinar type of funnel – where getting people into his paid membership programs and other products. That’s something that I will be able to try there.
The nice thing is at that point with all that stuff created in the can, able to be automated and at that point, the whole funnel will just be an exercise in tuning. To see what works, to try different things, split test different things but by having that core funnel in place, I will be able to tweak and tune that overtime and try to get the best results out of it.
And hopefully, as you are listening to this episode, you are putting two and two together there a little bit and then you are seeing what the other benefit of having that funnel be automated is. Which is going to provide me the time to actually focus on content and my members in the membership site. So if I don’t have to worry as much about promoting daily, weekly, monthly.
Because I have these automated funnels going behind the scenes, what my hope is there is that it lets me focus on building in a new core piece of content whether it’s a course or a set of resources or something like that on a new topic. Hopefully every month into the membership site. So month after month I am just adding to that content library.
Adding additional value in there and being able to provide a bunch of support to the members that are paying me. So that brings us to the final element of the launch process which is ensuring the smooth operation and support of your members in that first month after launch.
So Mike and Callie over at the Member Site Academy stress this a lot in their program. The key to retention is supporting your members and helping them achieve their goals. Being available to them through whatever means you have land already such as forums or coaching calls and so forth, you obviously need to execute on what you committed to them in your sales and promotions materials.
But especially in that first month or two, it makes sense to go beyond whatever you define in your sales offer. So what I mean by that is if you – let’s say as part of the membership fee, they are only members only access to you as via forum but let’s say that during that first month some of your early members say, “Yeah it would really help if I could jump on a live call for a few minutes, or have some other direct interaction with you.” Be sure to do that.
Obviously during that initial period, you want to try and deliver as many results as possible for your members that you can generate some great case studies, help them out and have that back up for future launches. To somewhere also in that early members, you’re hopefully going to generate some super fans or what some people call “Lifers.”
Those members that really resonate with you and your content and then you are going to support and be with you for years to come. You know usually in that first batch of users, there’s going to be a handful of those folks and you really want to cultivate that as soon as you can for all the reasons that we have already mentioned.
The other thing you need to be prepared for is any technical challenges that might arise as people start actually using your site. No matter how much time you spend testing before you launch, a membership site has a lot of moving parts. We have talked about WordPress, we’ve talked about plugins, we’ve talked about forums, third party services.
All these different things that need to work together to provide whatever user experience that you’ve designed. Inevitably in that first month or two, you are probably going to run into some issues. So as you might recall from some of my previous episodes about WordPress, I recommend having some form of paid WordPress support available to you.
Minimally, during those first few months and then probably on an ongoing basis. Now there’s a number of companies out there that provide WordPress support for a monthly fee and I’ll list a couple of those over in the show notes at StrongStart.fm/027. So I like the idea of having them under contract, having already run a few tickets to them.
So you know they have access to your site if they need to fix something and understanding their system for putting in requests and whether you can escalate request if they are urgent, these types of things. Because you know the worst case scenario is let’s say, you open up access to your site, you’ve got some paying members.
They are doing all this promotion, they have people joining and then the key elements of the site is broken. You obviously don’t want to have to be messing around with fixing that yourself. You want to be able to have a support staff there ready to support you in doing that. These are most likely going to be things that are outside of your expertise to fix anyway.
So again, check out some of those companies that I will list in the show notes and again, even if you just have them there for the first couple of months, that is going to be a good safety blanket or plan B in case you run into some issues that you can’t fix yourself. I also recommend training up your virtual assistant to be able to handle administrative issues.
Like people that forget their passwords or need to change their billing information or have basic questions on how to navigate the site. You know, if you need to be the one providing that support that’s okay but again, that’s not really going to require any of your expertise to do. That’s something pretty simple, you could document up, have a virtual assistant do that.
That way you can focus on more deeper support that you can offer to your members like if they have questions specific to your content, or whatever your topic area is. Then finally, there is also a number of what are called “Onsite Chat Options” that you can add to your membership site.
So these are service providers like Drift or Intercom which basically enable that little chat bubble that you see in a lot of sites now, on the lower right of your site. Users can click on that and then they can send you a message in real time if you are online. Or it will direct them to email if you are offline.
So what that means is that if you enable this on your site, that little chat bubble will be there and you can just have a generic message in there like, “Hey if you have any questions or issues that you need some support with, just click the chat bubble and then we’ll get back to you either in real time or as soon as we can.” That adds I think a significant feeling to your members of, “Hey, this is great! I can get support when I need it.”
And it’s a good feeling to basically provide to your members so that is something else that you might want to look at for your site. Again, they key in that first month after launch is delivering a great experience to your members so that you retain them into month two and month three and beyond. So with that, it brings us to the conclusion of both our launch content and this three part series on planning, building and launching your membership site.
I can tell you that being in the thick of it right now, this is a lot of work especially in my case since I am doing a virtual summit. As a key element of the promotion in addition to the membership, the summit alone is months of work alongside all the membership stuff and alongside a full-time job.
Now with that said, it is possible. I am inexorably making my way towards launch in a couple of months and from start to finish, once I really committed to this plan, it will be a six month process working as many hours as humanly possible to bring this off and hopefully launch that. But I have high hopes that this is going to deliver the most amount of value to the most amount of people.
And that is the reason why I am choosing this approach as opposed to some of the other ones which might monetize a little faster, or might provide more limited value and all of these kinds of things. But I am really going for providing the maximum amount of value that I can to the memberships that I hope to earn their trust and their purchase of my products.
So with that, we’ll bring this episode to a conclusion. For links to all the resources mentioned in this episode, head over to the show notes at StrongStart.fm/027 and I want to thank you for joining me today. If you’ve been enjoying the content here on StrongStart.fm, it would help us out greatly if you could give us a quick positive review over on iTunes.
My goal is to help as many people as possible reach their goals so we need to spread the word. I’d also like to encourage you to join my free membership academy. The beginnings of the membership site that we have been talking about in this series of episodes. In addition to easy access to every download and free resource that I have created in the last two years, you also get additional exclusive member content and access to my private Facebook group.
You will also gain access to the free period of the virtual summit that I have discussed in this episode as well. To join us, head over to StrongStart.fm/joinfree. Thanks and we’ll see you in the next episode of StrongStart.fm.