How to Start a Membership Site to Drive Relationships, Revenue, Results

       18 min read

What type of impact would consistent access to your customers minds, feedback, and suggestions have on your business? What if we told you that this was possible even before they became a customer?

Having a membership site is like having constant access to your customers, prospects, subscribers and fans. While everyone else is preaching “ask your customers what they want,” you could be busy actually asking and listening to your customers and everyone else. 

It's like starting a conversation and then sitting back to listen.

Then once you stop and listen, you can actually make smart decisions moving forward that people really want vs what you think they want.

“Then you become that Grandmaster of your own chess game,” George B. Thomas of Sprocket Talk says. “And you realize, ‘Here are the answers I'm getting. Here are the 15 moves I'm going to make from this [HUMAN information]’.”

George and our co-founder Remington Begg started Sprocket Talk as a startup within Impulse Creative to serve the HubSpot community. As a membership site, it’s become a community of like-minded marketing, sales and service professionals learning from each other and interacting with us at Impulse Creative. 

That’s a critical component of a membership site. If you bring the value, they’ll bring the engagement. 

Why Start a Membership Site?

Impulse Creative started Sprocket Talk as a membership site in part because marketing has evolved. We wanted to do something new. We wanted to make it easier for those wanting to learn, wanting to fix their problems, to get to the content that would help them do just that!

The traditional inbound strategy of building the path of blog article ➡️ call to action ➡️ form on a landing page ➡️ thank you page ➡️ ebook ➡️ email lead nurturing has become stale. Sure it can still work, but if everyone is doing, do you stand out? 

We wanted to find an engaged audience that would help us increase brand awareness, drive lead generation and bring in new clients who need HubSpot help. Instead of trying the same old thing, we launched a membership site focused on community, value, and being that “ace up your HubSpot sleeve.” 

In addition to the marketing reasons, we simply wanted to share the knowledge and information we gather with the community. George has been working in HubSpot for years, and trains users how to become power users. Instead of keeping that to ourselves, we wanted to bring it to the world, to you. 

Finally, a simple reason membership sites can benefit your audience is this: How many forms could you eliminate by simply making your resource center a membership area with just one form? 

Imagine being a user who finds an ebook they want. You ask them to fill out a form with their name and email. Maybe you ask for their company name. 

Then they see a webinar you’re offering and decide to join. Now since your systems are likely disconnected, or just because you want more information for a webinar registration, they have to start over with a form. Plus you’re now asking for their company size, its website and a timeframe on when they might need a new solution. 

Finally this user comes across another resource you’re offering and they’re on their third form and asking the same questions. 

What if users were able to give you information about them one time so you get to know them, and they’re granted access to multiple resources? 

Now you’ve started a conversation with tons of value up front. You’re only asking for information one time, and they get to enjoy your offers. It’s kind of like having a library card!

What About Monetizing a Membership Site?

A lot of people want to have a membership site that charges up front. Maybe it’s $50 a month or $99 a month and you get access to resources and “office hours.” 

That’s fine. But what would happen if your site offered value that blew people’s minds for free? 

With an inbound perspective, you can see how attracting users with value would build trust. 

Then once you have an audience asking for more, you can decide to build a deeper connection that includes fees or products. 

For instance, Sprocket Talk starts with the free VIP memberships that includes resources like tutorials, HubSpot updates, episodes of Sprocket Talk Unpacked, free learning courses and more. 

For those users who want to go deeper, there’s a membership level called VIP+ for $25 a month. This level includes member-only webinars, monthly office hours, discounts on learning courses and more. 

The membership fee helps cover costs, while becoming a revenue stream for Impulse Creative. 

Plus with a membership site, we “own” our contact database. We aren’t renting it from a social media platforms like Facebook, Linkedin, or others. And with that ownership comes the opportunity for higher engagement—and the chance to pitch new services. We have the ability to connect and converse with 100% of our community vs the 20, 10, or 2% that social platforms may share.

When you think about your membership site in the framework of bringing value to a community first, then monetization second or third, you’re building a powerful connection point. 

George says it well: “The idea of a membership site equaling community built out of necessity. We had been creating this content on YouTube and through our podcast and were getting thousands of thousands of listens or views. So there's people who want to get to this content and people saying they love this content. We had users saying they want more access to us as individual thought leaders in the HubSpot marketing space.”

Creating this value and putting together a community hub of resources and discussion helped create the ultimate HubSpot community. 

How Do You Start a Membership Site?

Are you thinking it’s time to start your own membership site—or membership area “Resource Center” of your site—for your business? 

Do you see membership sites as the next step in the inbound revolution? 

Let’s look at how George and Remington spun up a startup within Impulse Creative in the form of a membership site. 

Buy the Domain

If you have an idea of what you want to call your community, buy the domain before it’s gone.

Maybe the name is already taken and you need to rethink your URL. 

Getting the domain (or a couple options) purchased is a simple and inexpensive way to get the ball rolling.

Research

Is there any interest in a membership website for your niche? That’s the best place to start. 

Test your idea on the community you currently have. Create the content and share it in social media. Measure the interaction you have with the audience. 

As you build the first metrics of views, pay attention to engagement indicators like comments. Is anyone engaging with the content beyond skimming it? 

Minimal Viable Product

Next you can spin up a minimal viable product (MVP). You could start with a simple home page or landing page with a conversion point. 

This could lead to a few resources and a Slack channel members have access to right away. 

With an MVP you’ll be able to see if there’s a need in the community and they get to see that you have their interest in mind. 

Become a Publisher 

George says one thing every membership site owner needs to think about (and do) is get into a publisher mindset. 

Right now in marketing, that term is thrown around a ton. But what does it really mean to everyday marketers and business owners?

You have to bring content to you community. You're focused on making it great, making it abundant and it solves the problems of the people who are in your community.

Promote the Community

Next is marketing 101. You have to promote the membership site. Use social media to begin to get the word out. Offer it to your email database. 

You can create general promotions and personal invitations both, using social media to connect with both. 

And of course, don’t forget to hop on the organic traffic train through SEO (video SEO and textual both) and or maybe even run some ads. Awareness ads letting a targeted audience know they have a community available to them can get the eyes you need for continual growth.

The Tools

We built Sprocket Talk on the HubSpot CMS. With an enterprise level account, you can create almost anything you can imagine for your members and membership site functionality. 

Wordpress users can also build great communities with membership plug-ins and other tools. 

You want to create an area where users have to sign in and resources are ungated there. 

In addition to the website itself, channels like private Facebook Groups and Slack channels are great ways to connect your community. 

What Would a Membership Site Like Sprocket Talk Look Like IRL?

Want to know what a membership site should feel like? What if it was a real, live, in-person event? Here’s how George describes it:

“What I think everybody should focus on their membership looking like is, you want to see a bunch of people on the dance floor having fun sipping on beverages and eating snacks. 

What you don't want is the high school dance where everybody is sitting on the chairs on the outskirts of the wall and not engaging with each other. 

So what I think about with the Sprocket tog membership is, I want to be the DJ, I want to be the facilitator. I want to be the person who gets the music pumpin, gets the conversation started and can sit back and let others kind of communicate and help each other. 

Once they get into Sprocket Talk, I don’t need to be the thought leader or The Guy. My job's done outside of Sprocket Talk to be the thought leader or The Guy. Once they're in Sprocket Talk, I just need to be The Guide, right? 

So outside of SprocketTalk.com I'm The Guy. Inside, I'm The Guide. I just need to be there to be the catalyst or the facilitator of what they can do inside of the platform.”

Busting the Myths of a Membership Site

Myths, FAQs or whatever you call them, a lot of people have thoughts on memberships sites. Let’s break those down.

Membership Site Myth #1: You Need a Huge Community to be Profitable

The Truth: You don’t need a huge community to monetize. In fact, you can have a very small community of people that are willing to pay you each month and all of a sudden it becomes very profitable. 

In this world where everybody wants to be a YouTuber and make a living off of monetizing their YouTube channel, this is a secondary resource that any YouTube creator could have. Plus any business could have access to that strategy. 

For instance, most businesses are very linear. They hire a new employee, get new clients, change more tires, make the factory line go faster, hire more people, make it go faster… it’s a progression. 

In a membership site, it's very reciprocal. You get more members, the members talk to each other, the members add more value. With a monthly membership fee, it’s recurring revenue. Instead of linear, you have this reciprocal revenue engine happening alongside your other piece of business. 

Membership Site Myth #2: You Need a Ton of Content to Start

The Truth: You need content. But it’s quality over quantity. The idea of a membership site is that you’ll build the library as you go. 

Early members know they’re getting in on the ground floor and will see more value as it grows. They’ll likely be willing to invite their community in, building it quickly. 

As you create great content, you’ll add it the site. And as more people come in and you sit back and listen to what the community needs and wants, you’ll be able to create contextual content that matters to them, building even more value. 

The lesson is to start. 

Membership sites can help your business grow. They help with brand awareness, lead generation, sales, customer service and more. 

Want to pick George’s brain or have Impulse Creative help you build your membership site? We’re platform agnostic and can help you build yours in the HubSpot CMS or build a Wordpress membership site. 

What are you waiting for? Let's talk about a membership site for your business.

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Campfire photo by Phil Coffman on Unsplash

 

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