A membership site is a great way to create recurring revenue and achieve stable business growth.
In previous episodes, James Schramko and John Lint have covered this and other whys of the business model. They've also talked about the different types of membership. Now, they go over the seven stages of actually creating a membership site.
Tune in and discover the essential first steps, what to do for a membership that lasts, and what could be the best website software for membership sites.
In the episode:
01:33 – The data is your foundation. As with any business, it all starts with research.
10:18 – What are you actually selling? Figure out that thing people will actually pay you money for. Have them pre order, if possible.
16:35 – Let’s get building. What do James and John consider the best membership website platform?
22:08 – When it’s time to launch the thing. Think release for your pilot program, instead of doing a big launch.
26:33 – The importance of continuous tuning. If you want longevity, keep improving.
32:50 – This is where the magic happens. This part of the process will give you a high quality life.
37:02 – Now you take things bigger. Crank things up and continue your business growth.
38:16 – What to do after listening. Liked the topic? Now it’s your turn.
Here on SuperFastBusiness, we have a running sub series on the membership business model. A couple of recently discussed topics are why to have a membership, and what type of membership is right for you.
Today, James will be taking you through seven steps he’s identified in creating a membership. The show has a lot of listeners either interested in the model, or who have membership sites. For the former, this episode can serve as a roadmap, and for the latter it provides a handy checklist.
Step 1: Get the data
Before anything else, James recommends pulling out some paper or a spreadsheet, and getting information: what is the market doing, and what is it showing us that’s important to a membership?
A bit of backstory: James used to be a member in other people’s memberships, and there were a number of things he thought could be improved upon.
So James listed down the things he wanted in a membership, and the things he thought were missing. That gave him an overview of what was out there.
He also had a look at, searching for different phrases:
“Inform yourself before you go into a membership build blind.”
James wanted to get a snapshot. It’s best, he says, to inform yourself and not walk into something blind.
John’s perspective? Absolutely. And it’s one of the main things we all need to do, he says, whatever market we plan to enter, or whatever course or membership we want to create. They teach it in the KLEQ.com academy, with a few steps:
Ask: Can you make money in that market? How can you tell? See if other people are making money. That’s a good thing. You typically don’t want to be the first person doing something.
Model what works by analyzing:
James likes the part about buying the products. Don’t be afraid to invest.
He cautions against a big no-no, however – do NOT enter someone’s program, copy their stuff and pass it off as your own. He’s had plenty of people clone his material, and he can tell you: it’s by learning to fish, not just getting the fish, that people have a chance at longevity and survival.
That’s why the word John uses is model, not copy. You need to find the holes in people’s programs, or the ways you can do things differently. You need to find your own way, the thing that’s going to position you differently than everybody else. And before you can do that, you need to understand, what is it people want? What are they currently buying? What are the problems they’re having, and how are other people solving those problems?
And that’s where you come up with something compelling for them to buy, says James, leaning into step two.
Step 2: Create your offer
This is where you take your data, and you figure out a solution strong enough for someone to actually pay money for it.
Fifteen years ago, as an affiliate, James’s offer was a free membership and cheat sheet, which people got when they bought website software from him instead of the software company. He made a lot of sales.
In 2009 he started the first version of SuperFastBusiness. It’s evolved over time, but the offer is essentially the same. He helps people with online businesses work less and make more. And he does this using his experience and resources and assets and trainings.
So find your offer, make it compelling. And it should be informed by the information you found out about your market. Like the copywriters say, you’ve got to know your market back to front and give it your best shot.
Your first offer might not be wildly successful. That’s common. And sometimes people will say they want something, yet refuse to buy it as a finished product. A good way to validate your offer is to have people pre order a minimum viable product. And if you don’t get enough sales or it’s not worth it for you, then you can actually refund everyone and say it’s not happening.
The reality is, you might have to find a few different iterations for your offer to click.
Exactly right, says John. Remember, there are three main elements people will pay for in a membership – content, community and coaching. And it’s a good idea to build a wait list in the beginning, to see if people want to join.
Of course, the ultimate vote is when someone takes out their credit card. And you can absolutely take payments before the product is even up and running. It’s been done all the time with video games. You can offer a special bonus, a founder’s rate or extra coaching sessions to make it worth people’s while.
And when you’ve got those first members, find out what you can about them – what are their characteristics? Where do they hang out? Why did they join? Work with them, get them the best results possible, and make your offer even more attractive to people like them.
Step 3: Build the site
Now this step is a soft spot for John, says James. He founded KLEQ.com, the all-in-one membership software that James recommends for a smooth, hassle-free membership experience.
Of course there are other website platforms. Facebook is a very common solution. James’s concern with Facebook is it’s still somewhat difficult to organize. You have absolutely no control over how your customers are marketed to, or the database. You absolutely have to get customer details off the platform. It doesn’t integrate well with cart systems or access.
The other one you hear a lot about is WordPress-style website platforms. What you should know is it was and is a great platform, but – there’s a big but.
There’s a lot of maintenance involved, and plugins and bits and pieces bolted together and trying to do lots of different things. It’s what James calls a Frankenstein setup. You’ll need a webmaster or a service provider to manage it. You’ll need hosting, you’ll get DDoS attacks, and you’ll need SSL certificates.
James has two full-time people on his team who just work on his website, just for perspective.
On the other hand, he has SuperFastResults.com as a KLEQ installation. It has some information products and a membership on it, and they’ve been using KLEQ seamlessly for the cart, the reporting, the products, the upsells, downsells, the funnels. He has a book offer and a 30-day challenge on the site as well.
“Customization often equals expensive and difficult.”
It was very easy to set up, a one-click campaign install. No worrying about hosting, or security, or plugin, or updates, or gluing different platforms together, or the scripts you need when customizing.
Bottom line, there are cheaper platforms, but they don’t have enough features to do what you want. And usually, you’ll run out of scope, and have to upgrade. James’s advice is to start a trial with KLEQ, give it a good workout, attend John’s weekly trainings, ask the support whatever questions you want, go through the academy training and be amazed.
If you need more convincing, check out the KLEQ case studies on the podcast and be inspired by other people’s successes.
That’s KLEQ’s mission, says John – to make your life easy so you can focus on doing your real work as an entrepreneur. It’s your choice, but he recommends you find a solution that lets you do away with handling tech stuff and concentrate on your business.
Step 4: Launching
James knows of entire memberships built around the launch model. He, on the other hand, has dedicated a chapter in his book to explaining how stressful a launch can be.
He’s seen, over and over, people putting loads of effort into a launch that doesn’t do as well as they hoped. There’s not a huge financial gain; most of the money goes back out anyway. They deal with a launch team and affiliates and ads, and sometimes lose money after all their work.
James prefers release. It’s basically just letting everyone know your product is out. For him, the email list is really the number one go-to place. If you can’t sell your membership to your email list, he’s concerned you’ll do any better by running ads or pumping people through a three-hour webinar or having affiliates spread the word.
If you can’t convert through your own audience, says James, then don’t go too much broader than that. You could call it a pilot program, get some foundation members in, and get it moving and working so you know what you’ve actually got.
One thing James can tell you is year after year, your membership will become different versions. It’ll change when you get different members, it’ll change when you change, it will change when the market changes.
James has had a thousand different versions of his membership over the last 12 years. What hasn’t changed is that stable, recurring six-figure income every single month, for over a decade.
The launch is important. Definitely, you have to let people know about your membership. But so much more of running a successful membership is after the launch.
John’s input: the membership has to be the logical next step of a continuing education. And to do that, there has to be a step before the launch. It can be done in multiple ways – social media, YouTube, content, podcasting, guest appearances, etc. The goal is to get people to know you, like you, and trust you, before they even come to your sales page about your membership site.
That way when you release your membership, you’re not targeting a cold audience.
Step 5: Tune your membership
Think of your membership, James says, as a locomotive running along – you’ve got to maintain it; you’ve got to keep looking for innovation. When he quit his job, he made a commitment to himself to keep innovating, because as Peter Drucker said, you innovate or die.
“Innovate or die.”
Just for context, when he started a membership site, Facebook did not have Facebook groups. Imagine how strong his membership had to be to survive the threat of every single marketer on the planet having a Facebook group, except for him.
He makes changes all the time. Just recently he’s adopted Loom videos for his members’ private coaching. It’s a personalized and high-value solution.
He’s also started pods inside SuperFastBusiness, where members can huddle in groups of two, three or four and work, with James’s input, towards a common goal.
Memberships have come a long way. People are interested in usability, in accessibility through an app, in more than just emails from the founder. So consider how you can tune things up.
Consult your members, says John. What do they like? What don’t they like? How can you make it better? Get ideas and decide if it’s worth your time and if it will help people, and if so, do it. Because now that you’ve got people in, your job is to make sure that they stay for the long term.
John is a great example, says James. As a KLEQ user, he’s talked to John about improvements to the software, and many of them John has implemented. Unlike some other SaaS companies, he’s responsive to his members’ needs.
That’s part of the fun, says John.
Step 6: Automation
This is the magic stuff, says James. You think about the things you’re doing manually that you can get assistance with, whether it’s software or human automation, or a combination of both.
His own team do a lot of the behind-the-scenes functions for his membership. They check usernames, help update credit cards, post newsletters, send out emails, process James’s raw material into consumable content.
“What can you STOP doing?”
It’s about making your life livable – what can you stop doing? James used to do everything. Over time, he either got a software to do stuff, or a human. That’s what makes a more mature membership.
The goal, says John, is to build a business. Many people have a membership and get a lot of sales, but they still don’t have a business. What they have is a job. Ideally, you want to build something where you can actually remove yourself, where you’re just the thinker. You’re planning everything, and you’re watching what’s going on.
And you want to be in a position where maybe in the future, because you are now removed from the business, you could sell that business to whoever you want.
Even if you don’t have someone yet, he says, it’s very important for you to write down, step-by-step, whatever you’re doing in your business, because that’s what will help you hire someone and turn your tasks over to them.
And then you’ll be ready for step seven, says James.
Step 7: Scale
This is where your membership’s taken on a life of its own. The thing’s working, you’ve reduced the amount of work you’re doing, you know your offer’s attractive, you’ve got a body of customers giving you a goldmine of information – feedback when they leave, feedback when they join.
It’s now beyond just tuning or optimization. Your next step is about radical innovation and business growth. How do you find and tap a big nest of potential customers? How do you add a whole new thing like a podcast or a big traffic campaign?
For James, this year, he’s started running a lot more ads. A lot of people have seen him on YouTube and elsewhere. He’s even seen himself on a couple of pages where he’s visited, giving away his book or his challenge. That’s new. That’s scaling. He’s putting budget behind building his audience, making more offers, having more members come in.
This is something he’ll delve deeper into on a future episode. For now, this has been a broad overview of the seven membership-building steps.
Action steps for you
Now if you’re up to it, prepare for a bit of work. If you’re just starting out, you now have a roadmap for what you’ll likely need to do as you evolve your membership site.
If you already have a membership site, give yourself a little honest assessment. Where do you think you’re at? Where do you need help? The good news is, James has training on the subcomponents of this, to be rolled out in future episodes. So there’s more stuff coming.
Consider a membership as a possible replacement for a job. This is a better income stream than many other business models for some of the reasons James and John have talked about before.
Interested in an all-in-one membership solution? We have partnered with and recommend KLEQ. Look up John and his team at KLEQ.com.
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