From: "MUBI" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Jul 30, 2015 8:01 PM
Subject: This week on MUBI: Watch To Be or Not to Be
Posted: 17 Jul 2015 01:07 PM PDT
Marketing strategist Lynn Serafinn shares the pros and cons of setting
up and running a membership website, and compares two plug-ins that could do
This article is adapted from ideas presented in Chapter 13 of the book The Social Entrepreneur's Guide to Successful Blogging by Lynn Serafinn (coming November 2015).
One of the most compelling applications for a WordPress blog is using it as a membership site. Many of my clients come to me curious about this, wondering how they can start one and integrate it into their business. But speaking from personal experience, membership sites are kind of like that puppy dog you got for Christmas as a kid – after the novelty wears off, you realise you have to take care of this little lifeform that has been placed in your lap. If you don't, the results are devastating.
Back in 2009, membership sites were 'all the rage'. Then, people started to see they weren't the simple, flip-the-switch-and-they'll-make-you-rich business solution they had imagined. Membership sites do NOT create instant streams of the ever-elusive 'passive income'. Membership sites are hard work. They are hard to set up, hard to develop, hard to grow and hard to keep up!
My Spirit Authors site started out as a membership site, which I launched around the end of 2009. Fortunately, I had a good tech team who at least took that burden off my shoulders; but I very quickly realised I could not keep up with the workload of the content creation, let alone the customer care.
Then, a funny thing happened. People from the membership site started asking if they could be private clients. If I took them on, the income I would receive would be a lot more than I was making from membership fees. But it was not humanly possible to take on this bigger client load while simultaneously managing the membership site. I had to make a choice: where was I going to put my time, money and attention? So after spending a year-and-a-half on it, and investing many thousands in development, the membership site was abandoned.
A membership site is not a money-machine. The clue is in the name: membership site. It is a collection of people. You don't just set it up, take people's money, give them some content and walk away. They are there for an experience. They want something, and you have a duty of care to give it to them. Back when I first set up my Spirit Authors site, I attended a training session with the developers of WishList Member. The one thing they said repeatedly to our group was:
'People COME to your site for the content, but they STAYIf you're not ready to put your whole self into building community through your membership site, don't bother starting one in the first place. And if you do start one, don't dream of trying to do it by yourself. You will need help – in tech, admin, customer/member support and marketing. You might also need help with content creation. If you have an affiliate programme, you'll need someone to take care of that, too.
for the community.'
The bottom line is this: a membership site is not a product; it's a business. As such, it doesn't just need things to sell; it needs a business model, a marketing plan and a team of people who know what they need to do and how to do it. You might be the world's greatest teacher or trainer in a particular area of expertise, but unless you have all your ducks lined up in a row to make your membership site work, it (and possibly you) will crash and burn.
That said, a membership site can be one of the most exciting ways to do business, and had tremendous potential to be a rewarding, long-term source of income that spreads your message and helps other people – and as a social entrepreneur, that's why you went into business in the first place.
So don't let my words of warning put you off completely. Take time to consider carefully whether a membership site could become the foundation of your business. Speak to others who have done it successfully. Spend time planning not just your content, but your long-term business plan.
While you're envisioning all that, let's look at two contrasting WordPress plug-ins that can be used to turn your blog into a membership site.
Function: Enables you to set up a membership site on your WordPress blog
How to get it: http://bit.ly/LynnWLM
(my affiliate link)
COST: One-time fee of $197 for single site; $297 for unlimited sites
(as of this writing)
I used WishList Member to build my own membership site in 2009 – 2010, and
used it constantly for about two years to deliver courses on writing and book
marketing to authors. I got to know it very well during that time. However,
I am sure it has evolved since the last time I used it, because the developers
were very pro-active about making it better and better.
WishList Member (WLM) is what I would call a 'rigorous' piece of software,
meaning it can do a lot. But like any high-performing software, there is always
a learning curve. Back in in 2009, I did a training programme with them, intending
to become a certified developer for the software. After several months, while
I admittedly learned a lot, I decided I didn't want to spend my time working
as a tech for my clients when I should be helping them on marketing strategies.
However, the training gave me not only a good handle on the capabilities of
the programme, but also the many different approaches to designing online membership
programmes and why you might choose one over another.
Some of the key features that made WLM so rigorous included:
'Drip-feeding' lessons in this way also enabled me to build a trial period into the courses, to encourage people to give them a test drive before fully committing to them. I wanted to offer the first lesson to people for a fee of $1. After seven days, if they wanted to continue with additional lessons, they would be billed for the full amount of the course. This would be good for my customers, but it would also be good for my business: it would encourage more people to try it out, and it prevented people from joining the site, downloading all the content, and then disappearing.
This meant, just to deliver two modules of lessons, my software needed to be able to create at least twenty membership levels, which could automatically progress at set intervals. It also meant I needed to be able to hide and reveal content as members progressed through these levels, and to lock/unlock access to different areas of the forum automatically (done with 'member roles', which is not the same thing as membership levels). Lastly, it meant I needed a way to manage automated payment after the trial period was over, and to restrict access to the content if payment wasn't made.
If it sounds complex…it was! In the end, I actually asked someone else on the developer's programme to help me (she later went on to join our team, creating all the web pages for our book launch clients). However, it got done and, for the most part, it all worked. There were a few hiccups with affiliate integration and restricting access if payment wasn't made at the end of trial period, but it was nothing we couldn't work around with the modest number of members we had.
While it took a while to figure out how to get WLM to do all the things I wanted it to do, once it was configured (and the few hiccups aside), it was rock-solid. I also thought their training materials were excellent and their support team were extremely responsive.
I wish to stress that I have not used WLM for the past few years. I am sure they have evolved and improved, and that their integration capabilities have changed. If you check them out at the link above, you'll be able to read more and you can also see some demo videos they have showing different features. They have a 30-day refund policy, should you want to try it out. However, I strongly recommend that you have a good idea of what you want to do with it before buying, and that you hire someone who has worked with it to help you get it configured.
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