The future of an online business is linked to its ability to adapt.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve mentioned several times that I was working on launching a membership website. In fact, it was part of my 2013 to come up with a long-term product by the end of the year. I successfully launched my membership site in December 2013 (yeah I know, pretty last minute!). The site is up and running smoothly. Within its first month of operation, I have not only covered all my funding costs but I’ve gone into the black right away. Since then, I have generated nothing but profits… almost 😉
I’m currently working on a very big case study about how to build your own membership. I personally think this is the future of any online business. I love the model because you own both the product and the client. Therefore, there is nothing to take your money away from you if you do a good job serving your client.
Who doesn’t want to make recurring profits each month? Yeah… that’s the problem; building a membership site is not that easy… but it’s not that complicated either! This is why I’m sharing my story starting with what I had in hand to build my membership site.
Most people think you need your product ready or at least an idea of a product before starting your own online business. I don’t agree with this. In my case, I started by growing an audience. I think it was best thing I have ever done… before the membership website; I started a newsletter.
I have owned a dividend investing blog since 2010. The site has a great reputation and gets some decent traffic. However, the problem with a blog is often that readers come and go without leaving a trace. You can’t contact them, ask them for feedback or tell them to read your latest article because you think it’s Rock Solid. I have read tons of blogs, rarely leave comments and for some unknown reason, I sometimes get bored by one blog, forget about it for a while and only come back months later. If the guy was going to tell me something very important in between, the message is just lost.
The newsletter is the answer to build a solid audience. These readers may come and go on your blog, but you always have a way to reach out to them. This is what I did with my dividend investing blog: I started to focus on getting more and more mailing list subscribers. I ran contests, offered exclusive content and, the best trick; I offered a free but highly valuable eBook about dividend investing.
So over 2 years, I’ve worked very hard on building an audience. I wasn’t too sure what my newsletter would be used for in the future, but I only knew that it was the best way to keep direct contact with my readers. On top of this, I’ve made several thousand from the newsletter in the meantime. I’ve outlined many ways I’ve used the newsletter to generate profits in the past.
Building an audience isn’t that hard to achieve. All you need is a platform to tell the world you exist (your blog) and a freebie that is valuable enough to convince them to sign-up for your newsletter. The freebie could be as simple as a quick eBook answering a question, an email series to educate people or the promise of delivering exclusive content or even run a contest!
If you are looking for effective ways to build a newsletter, you can check out my special series on the topic.
Now that I had a bunch of people following me, it was the right time to do something about it. In 2012, I started by publishing a book on Amazon and it went very well. At that time, I got the confirmation I wanted; readers were ready to follow me further. Still, I didn’t have my idea ready yet.
While researching for my book, I contacted my readers many times to know what their main struggles with their portfolios were. I received tons of email back about the three main things that kept coming up:
#1 Having trouble with when to buy or sell (timing)
#2 How to manage the portfolio as a whole (which asset allocation, sector, etc)
#3 Tax implications
It’s pretty obvious that you can’t really build a monthly or annual subscription around a tax service for investors. Therefore, I had to work on the other two issues.
Working on your readers issues is the key for any product. This is exactly where you will find your niche and idea to build a service that will truly help people. Here’s a few examples of products that work big time on the internet:
Steve Chou shows how you can build your online store. Issue answered: several entrepreneurs have a product but don’t know how create and manage an online store.
Adam Baker shows people how to pay off their debts: Issue answered: how many people do you know that are struggling at the end of each month to pay their bills?
Corbett Barr shows people how to create a blog and build a tremendous audience. Issue answered: most people know how to setup a blog, but only a very few are able to get thousands of visitors per day.
Jon Haver builds blog network to improve search engine ranking performance. Issue answered: website owners with great content or great product but no traffic.
I guess you get the idea by now; work on your readers’ pain and solve their issues by using your knowledge. I’m the living proof you can do it in any market! Say what? Do you know a more crowded market than investing? Okay…. Besides internet marketing ;-). Seriously, when I started to tell my readers I was working on an investing tool to help them manage their dividend portfolio, I’ve received many emails telling me they were waiting for it… and a ton of emails warning me that there are very high quality services already in place and offered by big companies.
But this didn’t bring me down. Why? Because I knew I had an audience. I knew that no matter how big and complete other investing services could be, very few of them had the same connection I had with my readers and none of them had what I have to offer; ME!
My product was designed for my readers and the idea of my product came from them. It was only a matter of putting everything on paper and then building a website around it.
As this is an introduction post about how to setup a membership website, I will not highlight all the resources I used to create this project yet. However, I can say that you don’t need a fortune to build a nice looking website offering a membership or an online store.
I must admit that we didn’t start from scratch and this is why it has cost us a little bit more. We bought a website with a design and a membership plugin installed. Therefore, all we had to do was to customize the site to our needs and write our content. We paid about $2,500 for the website plus another $300-$400 in image rights and outsourcing work.
The biggest expense was definitely my time invested in the process. Overall, we have disbursed from our pockets a little less than $3,000 and I worked on this site long enough to say that another $3,000 of my time was spent on this project.
If I had to start a membership from scratch, I probably would have been able to do it with less than $2,000. It’s not much when you consider that you will create a money generating machine for several years to come. In fact, the $2,000 could easily be funded by a few affiliate emails sent through your newsletter while building an audience.
I’m finishing this post with probably the best trick I learned from building my first membership website. As I just wrote, we bought an existing website (with no members) to start our project. What I didn’t tell you is that we bought it back in 2012! Therefore, this project was on hold for over 18 months before we truly started to work on it.
In September of 2013, I decided to put everything aside in my online business and concentrated to finally work on this project. It’s always the same thing; you have a good idea, you know this could work well but you don’t have the time to take care of it. In fact, we never have the time to do something, we need to TAKE it. This is why I decided to give myself no other option but to launch the project in December of the same year. The best solution to cut all slacking options is being accountable for your work. And the best way to become fully accountable is to declare your statement publicly.
So in September of 2013, I announced on my investing blog and through my newsletter that I was going to work on a “special dividend project”. I asked people interested in knowing more about it to sign-up to a separate mailing list that was solely dedicated to this project.
Then, I got over 1,500 subscriptions to this mailing list. There was no way I could hold on to this project and make it wait. I was accountable to send my progress at least each 2-3 weeks to those people who followed me on my adventure. Having no other choice but to post about my project was the best thing I have ever done. It added pressure on us so we worked like crazy and made it happen right on time.
I could have never completed this membership site within three months if I hadn’t announced publicly about my deadline. At that time, failure was just not an option. I knew that I had built momentum over a three month period and people were definitely looking forward to discovering my project. If I had continued postponing my project until 2014, I would have lost the momentum and, at the same time, a bunch of potential clients.
All right, enough stuff for today, if you have any questions about my story, leave them in the comment section. In the meantime, I’ll be working on my next article for this series!
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