Understanding Membership Programs in 10 Minutes – Part 2

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on November 20, 2010 in: Business - Plain & Simple, Business Marketing, Tips in 10

This is part 2 of a series I’m writing about membership programs. In the previous article of Tips In Ten, I talked about membership programs as a way to grow your revenue while decreasing the amount of time you worked. In other words, membership programs are about switching from an hourly model of working to a more leveraged model where people pay you a recurring monthly rate to get access to some aspect of your expertise.

In this article of Tips In Ten, I want to talk about what you can turn into a membership program. And in the next article of Tips In Ten, I’ll tell you about some technologies that can help you to build your membership program quickly.

So, what can you turn into a membership program? The short answer is “just about anything.” All membership programs have one thing in common: They give the customer semi-exclusive access to something that they find valuable. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t get the same information free somewhere else, but a membership program does mean that they get access to specific information in a way that is more helpful to them, is easy to find, and is free of clutter (i.e, there are no advertisements or annoying pop-ups to view the information). It’s not just information that they’re paying for; it’s access. Remember that, because it will help you to find the right content for your membership program and charge appropriately for it.

So, with that in mind, what can you sell in your membership program?

A High-Level View
It starts with a compelling offer to a niche market. This isn’t any different than any other business model. You need to identify the niche market that you’re serving and you need to figure out what problems they face and how to solve them. Then, you can build content around solving those problems.

Whatever you decide to do, you need to make sure that your content is:

  • Valuable: You want people to buy into your membership program and stay there, paying each and every month for greater value. Typically, customers equate value with the following elements:1.    Exclusivity (they can’t easily get the same information somewhere else)
    2.    Applicability (they can immediately put the information to use to solve their problems)
  • Sustainable: You want to make sure that you can provide additional value over time while remaining true to the purpose of your membership program.

Spend some time thinking about the subject matter you’re going to offer in your membership program and make sure it is broad enough to sustain a fairly long-term plan. You don’t want to run out of information in a year or two down the road!

And here’s another tip, drawn from an observation I’ve made: If you are really well-known in your market as a leader, you can have a fairly general membership program and people will sign up just because your name is attached to it. However, if you aren’t as “famous” as you’d like to be, you might have to be a little more specific with your subject matter because people will weigh the perceived value of your content based more on the subject matter and its applicability to their lives rather than on your name.

More specifically…
Once you have the subject matter in mind, you need to think about the media through which you will deliver it. You might consider creating:

  • Articles
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Ebooks
  • Reports
  • Blogs
  • Webinars
  • Teleseminars
  • PowerPoints

You can choose one or several. Pick things you are comfortable with and consider expanding into others over time. It depends on what you like to offer and what your customers will respond positively to. If you like videos, you might consider an all video membership program where you record regular videos for your members and post them on your members-only website. If you prefer to write and your customers don’t mind reading, then create blogs and articles and reports for them. If you have some great connections to noted experts, get them on a panel and record it (audio or video) and share that.

But that’s not all!
So far I’ve listed information, but that’s not the only thing you can offer in a membership program. Here are a few others:

  • Consider downloadable tools (such as Excel Spreadsheets, for example, or Private Label Rights content that your customers can repackage and sell)
  • Consider a classroom-style program where you teach a small group of people. Use a classroom program (like Prfessor.com) or use a round-table conference call system where a half dozen people call into one number and talk to you. I’ve seen both work successfully.
  • A membership program might also be useful for connecting people. For example, I’ve seen this model work in a situation where members of a profession want to connect and share ideas or refer out-of-town clients.
  • You might also consider user-generated content (like a forum) where your customers can talk to each other and you can come in from time to time and share your insight.

Now it’s time for you to think about what you want to offer for a membership program. Here’s what I suggest:

1.    Start with your current market. You already know what they need and you already have a connection to them and some positioning as an expert. It will be an easy step to build your membership program and offer as part of your current marketing efforts. (Conversely, if you start with a completely new market, you’ll need to ramp up your positioning and marketing. You’re starting at zero if you work with a new market). Add a link to it in your email signature and in the footer of your blogs and articles.

2.    Brainstorm what needs your prospects and customers have and how you have been solving those needs. For example, if you are a coach, think about the most common problems that your clients bring to you and what you do to help them. Are there elements of your coaching that can be “generalized” for broader consumption?

3. (Helpful timesaver) Look around your business and find information assets you currently have (or can quickly produce) to start building content. For example, repackaging old blogs into a single document might be good. Sure, it might not be the ONLY thing you offer but can be helpful. Another great tool would be to use any recorded coaching calls you’ve done (but don’t forget to ask for permission from the person you were recording).

4.    Decide how much you want to charge and, at the same time, how much information you want to release each month. You will be spending some time each month on creating and publishing information for your membership program (and it will take a little more time in the early stages but ultimately you’ll spend less time overall than if you did hourly work).

5.    Brainstorm enough content for a year. This might take some time and creativity but it’s important for two reasons: First, you want to make sure that you can sustain your information over time. Second, you want to have a publishing plan in place so that you’re not trying to think of new material every month.

6.    Create content for 3 months in advance. Try to stay 2-3 months ahead of yourself at all times so that you have a bit of a buffer zone just in case life gets in the way and keeps you from creating content. Believe me, you’ll go through this material fast and if you don’t stay ahead of it, you’ll find yourself doing some last-minute scrambling. The other advantage to working ahead is that you can build additional customer loyalty by promoting upcoming releases. For example, send out an email two weeks before you add something to your membership site that says something like: “I’m really excited about the upcoming release. You don’t believe the valuable information it provides about [whatever your topic is]!”

7.    Set up your membership program (more on that in the next article).

8.    Market your membership program as another way for potential customers to get access to your expertise. Include a link to your membership program in all of your marketing efforts.

Just to be clear: I’m not saying this will take ten minutes. This Tips In Ten series is meant to give you 3 helpful overviews about membership programs in ten minutes. It will take longer. Ultimately, you’ll end up saving a lot of time by creating a successful membership program with the ideas above and switching from an hourly business model to a membership business model that provides recurring monthly income for substantially less work.

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