A lot of people are talking about membership sites these days. There are a number of advantages to creating one; most specifically, it allows you to receive residual income from people coming to your site for membership benefits.
Typically, when you market an information product, most people buy the product from you, pay you once and just go away. You may keep them on a mailing list and send them other offers from time to time. When you put people into a membership site…your customers pay you month after month…and you can make the product more affordable…AND provide a whole lot more content and multi-media experience…such as a video showing people how to do it.
I recently heard a great podcast from Internet Business Mastery on membership success secrets, and this post is primarily thanks to Jay and Sterling. (if you are not listening to these guys, I highly recommend them).
While the temptation is to rush out and create a membership site right away, here are some success strategies you should consider when making your own membership site.
1) Create a community.
While your customers may initially join your membership site for your “premium content”, give them more than what they bargain for. Surround them with a community. As Jay and Sterling points out, “people came for the content, but they are staying for the community.” This is especially true if you are actively involved to build a caring and supportive community.
Attrition is the #1 enemy of operating a membership website. The more community energy/culture you can build, the less attrition you will experience.
Help the members find the support they need. Encourage new members to ask questions, and old members to help new members feel welcome. Ideas such as a general greeting announcement from all members to say “welcome home” to any new members makes them want to belong.
Choose a membership system where your members can “drill down” other members…much like Facebook, Linkedin, etc. The more you can help them get to know each other..the tighter the bond…the longer they want to stay.
Facilitate local meet up groups. Encourage your members to form their own master mind groups. Facilitate ways for them to have “side ways” communications with each other.
Seed your community with key customers and vendors. This is crucial in the beginning to build critical mass and content. Give key members deep discounts or even free membership for their name/brand/content/contribution to your network.
2) Provide a Step by Step Guide.
Often times, when you join a community site, it can be overwhelming. There’s usually so much content that it is overwhelming. Make your content displayed in an easy “Step 1, Step 2″ format. At the very least, give your members a “Getting Started Guide”. Show them what to do.
Provide your members with a Week, by week guide. A Work Book, or some way to keep them moving forward and on progress.
If your site has technology to restrict access to content until a certain number of days/weeks has elapse since the member has joined, all the better. This content restriction is actually good…as it does not overwhelm your clients (and keep them on your membership site for longer).
One of the top 3 reasons why people leave community websites is confusion. When people get confused, they disconnect…when they do this, then you’ve lost them. Make it simple.
3) Create a Clear Procedure Manual – Systematize everything
Document your process. “McDonald-lize” your operation so that other people such as virtual assistants can follow your process. The idea about creating a membership website is to create residual income…and get your out of the day to day work. By documenting how you create content, how you create events, how you moderate inappropriate posts, this makes it easy for your employees/VAs to take over the task for you, so you don’t have to do it.
Start doing this practice early so the task is not so overwhelming. Create a schedule and stick to it.
4) Be in Integrity.
Deliver what you promise and more. Rise above the mediocre. Give people the “Wow!” This is how your business grows because the experience exceeds their expectation.
Do what you say you will do. This may be a no brainer, but you’d be so surprised how many people in business fall short of this. If you can’t deliver what you promised, then be honest about it. Don’t give excusses. The only way to succeed in this era is complete transparency. Otherwise, your people will talk…and news will spread.
In this age of low trust, your customer has shown considerable good faith to decide to do business with you. They are giving you an A score, and it’s yours to lose. Don’t waste it. Go from A to A++.
5) Provide a Resources Page
Include your rollerdex of vendors, clients, resources, websites, tools, etc that your people will need to be successful.
I’ve gone to so many conferences where the list of websites people share with me was well worth the price of admission. For example, a local media contacts list, where to buy stuff at wholesale, a list of websites/tradeshows to promote your products.
Include videos showing how to use the tools would also be handy.
6) Copy Best Practices
Join other people’s community sites. Don’t be judgemental or defensive. Keep an open mind. Learn. See what other people are doing that you like and dislike. Remember, “if you copy what successful people do…you will get the same results as those successful people.” It’s called mirroring.
Ask questions. Don’t be shy. The only silly question is the ones unasked.
7) Mix up the content.
Provide your content in a number of ways. Use videos, podcast format, as well as writing. Some formats work better than others.
If you are a gardener, then filming may be best. Don’t get caught up in the technicalities of production quality. People are very forgiving (within reason). Focus on the content.
If you are showing people how to use tools online…then a Camtasia video might work better. If you use a mac, I recommend ScreenFlow
Congratulate and praise success stories from your members. Give them the spot light. Allow them to put up stories about their success. Interview them and put up the audio for others to listen to it. Success breeds success. People want to know “how did you do it?”
9) Keep it Fresh and Exciting
No one wants to join a boring and stale site. Regularly add content, updates…additional field research to your site.
Launch competitions and challenges with your members. Raise the bar. Push your people to be better.
Invite special guests to write articles/content on your site. Better still, host regular “members only” teleseminars/webinars with a special guest and allow members the opportunity to ask questions with your guest.
10) Membership has its priviledges.
Fundamentally, it goes down to “what’s in it for me?”. To keep your members excited and interested about your site, you have to earn their attention. Why should they spend time on your site rather than time with their family?
Give your members special discounts to your products. Haggle special discounts from other vendors to give to your members.
Put together a conference for your members to attend so they can meet one another. People of like mind build synergies, allow the magic to happen.
Make a place for your members to access you…a place where they can ask you questions and that you commit to answering without giving them your personal email address.
Encourgage your members to give each other “members only discounts” to sample/buy each others’ wares.
Maybe create a Join Ventures room for members to cross promote their products to each other’s lists.
I liken the membership experience to joining a guild in World of Warcraft. In WoW, in order to really get ahead, you should join a guild…yet there are thousands of guilds to join…which should you join? Some guilds are better than others. The best guilds are the ones that give it’s members common benefits. For examples, guild members get free stuff from other guild members instead of having to buy it from the auction house. They go on adventures together. Provide escort duties for members to go through difficult areas to fulfill quests.
Remember, there may be other products out there. Other gurus. Other places your members can spend their time, but they have decided to invest their time with you. Respect that. Give them a compelling reason to join, and stay.
Like any other business, owning a membership site is in many ways just like raising a baby. It’s an investment. The more you invest in time and love for the baby, the more it will grow.