The Membership Guys

How We Built Our Audience Before Launching Our Membership

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How do you build an audience before you launch your membership?

This is a question every successful membership owner has had to contemplate at one point.

Because doing things the other way around – launching a membership and then trying to find an audience – simply doesn't work.

When Callie and I decided to launch Membership Academy, we started pretty much from zero…

We had little to no audience and our marketing activity was inconsistent…

Yet we've gone on to build a seven figure business that has attracted thousands of members…

So how did we do it? 

Here's the story of how we built our audience before launching our membership…

The early days

Let’s turn the clock back in time a little bit…

Been watching a little too much of Doctor Who recently…

How did The Membership Guys come to be? 

In 2015, we had an agency where we worked with clients one-to-one on their memberships…

We consulted on building websites and creating marketing and retention strategies for membership site owners.

And as we were so hands-on, we only worked with a small, select client base.

This meant we quickly got to the point where we were so busy, we were regularly turning clients away.

This sounds like an enviable position to be in, but the truth is, we hated not being able to help more people.

Either because we didn’t have the time, or they didn’t have the budget.

We wanted to help them, to point them in the right direction, even if it was away from us…

So, we searched for a solution…

But there wasn't one.

There was nowhere we could refer them to that wasn’t a dodgy scam or outdated internet marketing nonsense…

This made us realize that the reason we were so in demand was because no one else was offering the same – or similar – services to us in the membership space at the time.

And that sparked the seeds for what would become The Membership Guys and eventually Membership Academy

But we knew that to launch the membership, we’d need to start building an audience…

What did we start with?

Even though our services were in high demand, our marketing was pretty much non-existent.

All of our business came from word of mouth and networking…

We weren't doing much to build a wider audience because, frankly, we didn't need to.

Sure, we had a blog on our agency’s website, but we rarely posted…

We also had a lead magnet – which was the prototype of the  plugin comparison chart that we still offer today – but we hardly ever promoted it.

We had also started our Facebook group, but there weren’t many members there, and we were a LONG way off the 18,000+ members it has today!

It's fair to say that we didn't have much of an audience…

Actually, that's an understatement…

We didn't really have an audience.

That's because we weren’t actively using any of these channels as part of our marketing.

And we knew that if we wanted to build an audience, we’d have to change this.

That's where it all began…

What steps did we take before the launch?

The first thing to note is no, we didn’t have a huge budget…

We didn’t drop thousands of dollars on Facebook ads.

What we did was some very targeted marketing…

We knew that launching without any prep work wasn’t going to do us any favors…

So, we put a number of things into play in the few months ahead of our launch date to build up interest…

We created a new email list

While we did have an email list, it was fairly small, and those people weren’t necessarily interested in memberships.

Most of them were there because they wanted someone to build their membership for them…

Or they wanted private coaching…

They didn’t want to do it themselves, so they weren’t the target market for our membership.

Rather than keep hold of every name on the list, we were upfront…

We told them that we were creating a membership with courses, a monthly Q&A, a community and so on…

And we let them know that we’d be moving to another list, and anyone who wanted to come with us was more than welcome to do so.

We then scrapped the old list and brought over a very small number of interested people to the new list…

You might say that’s risky…

But if those people weren’t interested, they probably weren’t going to sign up anyway.

We got serious about blogging

We had done some blogging in the past for the agency…

But we knew we had to do better to build an online audience, especially if we wanted to use the blog to drive traffic to the membership post launch…

So we launched a new blog on themembershipguys.com and updated it regularly.

We pulled over some of our original content from the agency blog, but trimmed anything that wasn’t relevant to the membership.

When writing content, we focused on answering specific questions that we knew people were searching for on Google, such as…

“How do I start a membership?” or…

“How do I pick a membership plugin?”

We launched a podcast

Given that I’d had podcasting experience before, it just seemed like a natural step in our launch plan.

This was around the time when podcasting was starting to really take off…

People I respect in the online space, like John Lee Dumas, Chris Ducker and Pat Flynn were building real traction in the podcasting space around 2015.

So in July of that year, we launched The Membership Guys Podcast by releasing five episodes at once…

This was what you had to do back then to ensure you got a place on the “New and Noteworthy” section on iTunes.

From there, we published one episode per week, which is something we still do to this day.

We used social media strategically

Like blogging, social media wasn’t exactly new to us…

But we had never used it very strategically before.

So, alongside the blog, we got serious about social media as well.

One thing we did on social media, blogs, and the podcast was encourage people to join our Facebook group

Our aim was to build a real community there…

So we actually bought a domain name that redirected to the Facebook group, just to make it easier to refer people to…

That way we could say things like “Head to talkmemberships.com to join our Facebook group.”

We also started to post teaser images, pictures of our new logo, graphics, and even a mock-up of the dashboard asking people for feedback.

Academy Launch Teaser Graphic

We stacked the value of our lead magnet

To collect more email signups, we created a solid lead magnet.

We spruced up our original plugin comparison lead magnet and added a planning worksheet that we used for clients.

We turned it into a bundle so if you opted into our email list you'd get what we called a “Membership Toolkit”

Membership Toolkit Promo Graphic

Included in that was our step by step membership planner, our plugin comparison chart and an exclusive invite to our private Facebook group as well as regular tips and advice via email.

As it was early days and we had a small email list, we really tried to stack the value with our lead magnet to make it more enticing.

We created a ‘coming soon' page with an opt-in form

While everything else was in motion, we also created a wait-list page on our website.

It was a single page that said: “Coming soon, Membership Academy.”…

It had a one-line description and an opt-in email form for people to register their interest.

While we didn’t exactly have a flood of traffic coming across our site…

But we could link to it whenever we mentioned it on social media or in our emails.

The 30-day challenge

We got the ball rolling with all of the above, but what really accelerated things was our email challenge on how to build a membership in 30 days…

30 Day Challenge Promo Image

It delivered daily lessons and challenges with the Facebook group acting as support.

We timed it so that the challenge would conclude as we opened the doors to the membership…

So it lead directly into the Membership Academy launch.

We promoted this challenge on our blog, social media, and email list to build that momentum.

This challenge was later turned into a bit of a lead magnet and was eventually repurposed into our first published book – Member Machine.

Member Machine

All of these steps helped us to grow a healthy audience so that by the time we arrived at the big launch, we didn’t see any sad tumbleweeds.

How successful was the launch?

In the first few weeks, we had around 350 enrolled in the challenge and around 450-500 people on our email list…

Of these, 150 joined our waitlist to sign up.

Not bad to start off with, but no mind-blowing numbers here.

At the time, our membership was priced at $29, which ran as a two-week promotion before going up to $39.

Part of our push in the first two weeks was that pending price increase…

We highlighted that you would lock-in that promotional price for life if you joined in those first two weeks

And we still have a bunch of members now who pay just $29 a month…

I love that!

While 150 members wasn’t a huge number, it still meant that over $4,000 came in each month…

That was our living expenses covered…

And it allowed us to allocate more of our time away from client work.

Eventually, around six months in, Membership Academy was really picking up steam…

So much so that we phased out new clients coming onboard to our agency, closed our doors and focused 100% on our membership site instead.

Where are we now?

We certainly didn’t become successful overnight…

Over the years, we’ve had over 8,000 students enrolled in the Academy, several thousand are currently active, millions of dollars of revenue, millions of podcast downloads…

And that small email list has grown to over 40,000 subscribers…

But it all started with that small but highly targeted audience. 

We didn’t have affiliates or big ad budgets to play around with…

We had drive and strategy to target an audience we already knew was there.

Like any business, it was still a risk, given that our agency was doing well…

But we’re so glad we did it!

So if you're worried that your email list isn't big enough…

That your audience is too small…

Or if you know you have an amazing membership inside you, but you're at square one and you're letting that put you off…

Just know that it's possible.

It can be done.

After all, we did it! 

And others continue to do things from a small starting position.

You can do it too…

You just need put the work in to build your audience.

I hope that by sharing this story, it’ll inspire you to get started!

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