I’ve always dreamed of having a membership site.
I used to look up to the men and women who had successful membership sites and daydream of one day getting to that level. I don’t know how the idea was planted in my head, but somewhere along the line, I decided that a membership site was the holy grail of online business.
It’s a brilliant business model.
They create recurring revenue. They can be highly profitable. They are scalable, and if you can build an army of passionate fans, the membership site will sell itself.
Finally, after years of dreaming about it, I took action. A few months ago, I brought the idea to the Sober Nation team and we decided to go all-in on building a membership site. We call it Sobriety Engine.
Sobriety Engine is an online community of people who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.
Building this community has been an amazing learning experience. It’s been humbling and exciting to be starting a project from scratch and to be back in the beginner’s mindset. I’m re-learning tried and true marketing lessons that I have forgotten.
I want to share these lessons with you. Let’s get started.
Always Approach from an “Audience First” Mindset
When we first decided to launch Sobriety Engine, I created a timeline and a plan to grow the business. First, we were going to get 1000 members. After that, we were going to relaunch some courses we had created. The last step was to create a premium paid membership community that had extra features such as guest lectures, presentations from experts, and interviews with famous motivational speakers within recovery circles.
The idea was that the community will be free, the courses will be paid and premium membership will also be paid on a monthly recurring basis.
It was a solid plan, but there was only one problem.
Our initial plan was serving us more than it was serving our audience.
The first priority should be to serve your audience. As Brian Clark always puts it…
If serving your audience is your top priority, then you will naturally back into a successful business model. You can best serve yourself by serving others.
We noticed our mistake and we took a step back. We rededicated ourselves to focusing all of our attention on our audience and our community. We started asking ourselves some simple questions.
- What do people want to see?
- How can we serve them?
- How can we facilitate better relationships between people so they interact and help each other in their own recovery?
- How can we build a family?
Once we transitioned our mindset, it was incredible how quickly the community started to take off. People became engaged, they are talking to each other, they are joining groups and they are even making relationships outside of the online community.
It’s been truly inspiring and an amazing event to witness.
Which brings us to our next lesson. Keep reading.
Listen to the Community, They Will Tell You What They Are Looking For
When we started Sobriety Engine, we were convinced that people were looking for a “hip and young” community. We were basically targetting millennials. I was seeing some online trends in the recovery community that was leading me to believe that young people were excited about being a part of the “recovery club.” Sobriety was becoming cool.
Every day, there are more celebrities and public figures opening up about addiction and recovery. Our idea was to leverage the idea of recovery being cool and build our membership around that.
Come to find, that I was absolutely, completely, 100% wrong about everything.
As part of the free membership, we created a series called the Sober Spot Check. Every week, Tori hosts a live video meeting where people come together to talk about their struggles, their journey in sobriety and help each other stay sober one day at a time.
We thought these weekly video chats would be a nice little add on to the community and it would appeal to people who are having a hard time and are looking for help. We discovered that it is the most popular event in the entire community.
People weren’t coming to Sobriety Engine to be part of some cool club, they were coming there because they were still hungry for real recovery. They wanted fellowship, connection, resources and a place to share their stories. They wanted to hear the message from other people in recovery and they genuinely wanted to stay sober another day.
They want to build real, authentic, sober relationships.
Understanding this completely changed the way we created resources for our audience.
We listened to our audience and they told us what they were looking for. Now we take this concept and we combine it with the audience first mentality to create exactly the kind of content and features that best serve the community.
Which brings us to our last point. Now that we have an engaged audience, we need to monetize.
Building a Successful Product Launch
Have you ever released a product and had it flop?
I have. Every product I’ve ever released through my personal brand has been a failure. I had some success when I created a subscription-based weekly newsletter, but even then, I was forcing a product that wasn’t totally in line with what my audience wanted.
With Sobriety Engine, we are doing it right!
As the community grows and as the engagement increases, it is becoming so obvious what kind of products and services the community will be willing to pay for. It doesn’t require any speculation on my part. It simply requires patience and a willingness to listen.
We decided to take our time as we develop our products. We are constantly in tune with what our audience is telling us. The audience is telling us exactly what they want through their actions.
In order to create a successful product launch, the secret seems to be to …
- Pay attention to what content and posts get the most interaction.
- Experiment with different free products such as webinars or presentations and keep a record of what took off and what flopped.
- Ask your audience questions.
- Do surveys.
- Most importantly, pay attention to what your audience is DOING. Where are they spending their time within the community?
Now use the data to build a product or a service that perfectly matches the needs of your audience. It’s so simple.
This willingness to listen is the difference between creating a product that “you hope will sell” and creating a product that people are eagerly waiting to buy.
Give the people what they want.
If I would have stuck to my guns and arrogantly created products for the audience that I wanted to create, it would have been a guaranteed failure. But now that we understand our audience and are focusing on serving them, we are creating products that tailor to their needs and wants.
People are already asking for the products that we are creating. Now it’s just a matter of taking the time to create a remarkable product experience. I’m 100% certain it will succeed.
I can’t wait.
The Biggest Lesson I’ve Learned
I’ve been scratching my head the last few days thinking of a way to close this article. The truth is, we haven’t yet sold any products for Sobriety Engine, so I can’t come out and claim success.
I also can’t claim to be a membership site expert in the same way I can claim to be an SEO expert or a content marketing expert. None of my online businesses have followed a membership site model, so I don’t have the authority to give any more advice than I already have.
That wouldn’t be true or authentic to who I am and what I’ve learned thus far.
In talking to Juliana last night over dinner, I realized the bigger lesson. I realized that although the lessons I spoke about in this article apply specifically to membership sites, there is still an overarching lesson to be learned.
The lesson is to be patient.
In all of my successes, the overlapping commonality was that I didn’t need it to be a success. I gave myself the time to experiment, to build an audience, and to “see what happens.”
Every time I’ve ever forced my ideas, it was a failure.
I’ve seen countless businesses fail because the owner or the founders needed it to hit certain revenue goals within certain timelines. Yes, revenues and projections and quotas are important, but my point is that if you want to maximize your chances of seeing life-changing success, your best option is to put revenues on the back burner for as long as you can.
If you give it time, the audience will steer you in the direction of profits. But no one is going to buy something that they don’t want. So why waste money guessing? Why not find out what people want and fulfill the need for them?
It’s counter-intuitive. It hurts our egos to admit that we aren’t brilliant innovative Steve Jobs types that can “tell the people what they want.”
That’s not how it’s worked for me.
For me, my success has come on the backbone of service. My success has come from the realization that I don’t know anything and that if I am willing to be humble, to listen and to serve… I will continue to see success beyond my wildest dreams.
I believe the same will happen for you.