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How To Launch A Membership Site – Part 4: Content and Pricing

By Yaro Starak
17 Comments

Read previous articles in this series:

PriceThe previous three parts of this series focused on the marketing and technology requirements to successfully launch a membership site. There is still one critical component you must have in place before you move on to the prelaunch and launch phase – the content you will provide members in return for their membership fee.

Surprisingly, while content is of course a mandatory requirement for any membership site, it’s often the area that marketers spend the least time on. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t pay attention to your content – your goal should be to always over-deliver when it comes to content – but often so much time is committed to marketing that content takes a back seat.

The How and the What

You have two important decisions to make when it comes to content for your membership site -

  1. How you will deliver your content, and
  2. What content will you deliver

There are limitless options to answer both questions above and you need to work with what you are capable of and what your members will respond favorably to.

When I was planning Blog Mastermind I wanted to make use of all the media tools available to me. While I do not have the budget for expensive equipment and I’m far from an expert at multimedia, thanks to tools like Camtasia and Audacity, you can be an amateur audio and video producer and still deliver good content.

The model I followed for my membership site was based on Andrew and Daryl Grant’s e-book business mentoring program. They charge $49 a month for an e-lesson, some phone consultation (not with them though, with their “lieutenant” experts) and a resource areas. The main continuity element is the e-lessons and not surprisingly, most members never use their consulting time.

Andrew and Daryl Grant – E-Book Mentoring

You can learn exactly how Andrew and Daryl Grant generated $250,000 US in their first year of selling e-books online by listening to the two part podcast interview I did with Daryl.

You can also find a brief explanation of their e-book system in this post – How To Start An eBook Business In 5 Easy Steps.

You can find details about their mentoring program here.

I personally felt capable of producing a quality series of e-lessons to teach budding bloggers and it made sense to do so since the process of building a popular blog and then monetizing it is very sequential, you must build on your previous work. I decided to also use an e-lesson focused model for my membership site and throw in additional multimedia to further enhance the learning experience for my students.

I considered providing private coaching calls at one point, but then I realized I couldn’t work with a large group if I was to do all the calls myself, so instead I decided to focus on question and answer recordings, modeling what Rich Schefren did with his live teleconferences in his coaching membership site. Rich collected questions in advance through a members forum, and then responded to them and answered more questions in teleconference calls.

Strategic Profits Business Coaching by Rich Schefren

I am a member of Rich Schefren’s coaching program, which provides a fantastic learning experience, an opportunity to network with the best in the Internet marketing business and also learn a lot about how to launch a successful membership site. A lot of what Rich does with his online coaching site I used as inspiration for my own mentoring program.

You can learn more at Strategic Profits.

I may yet do live teleconferences for Blog Mastermind students, but for now I provide downloadable MP3 audios of responses I record in Audacity. Blog Mastermind students have a private mentors Q&A forum where they can post questions for mentors (currently three of us, including myself) and if I think the questions are generally applicable I’ll respond in audio and distribute the recording to all students. Questions are also answered in forum post text replies by myself, the other mentors and students.

Forums

Obviously having a forum as part of your membership is a good idea, but bear in mind it can be a lot of work, especially if you don’t set up a structure.

When I first launched Blog Mastermind I was initially overwhelmed with the response and was not equipped to handle the activity in the forums. I had to quickly put in place volunteer moderators to deal with spam and hire additional mentors to help provide educated answers. The students are great at helping each other, which was my intention with the forum from the get-go and I’m pleased to see a reasonably self-sufficient community arise from the Blog Mastermind forums.

Video

One of the most successful aspects of Blog Mastermind content are the blog video case studies I do for students. Initially I did not plan on using video in this manner, I was going to simply use it for tutorials on how to do things, but after the great response I received to a case study I did during the prelaunch of Blog Mastermind, I decided to make it a regular feature for members as well.

Video is huge on the web at the moment. You can use it to record yourself as a “talking head” to make content more personable and human, or create screencast presentations to teach with. Not everyone has the capabilities to view video and some still prefer text, but so far the majority of my members respond very well to it. I would definitely consider it for your membership site.

Physical Product

Everything I currently produce for students is digital and this entire series has been based on creating an online membership site. There is no reason you can’t take what you produce digitally and make physical product.

Written text can be printed and turned into paper newsletters or manuscripts. Audio and video can be burned to CD or DVD and sent to members. This generally results in an increase in perceived value, which affects pricing, but also increases your expenses as you have to produce and ship the content.

It’s important to note that not everyone has the bandwidth or technology in place to consume multimedia. Some people don’t like audio and video and prefer text wherever possible, so it is a good idea to have transcriptions made of any audio you produce and not depend on video to heavily unless you are prepared to exclude some people because of it.

Remember that every person learns differently. Some enjoy audio, others benefit from visual training like video, while for many people reading text is their preferred method of study. If you can provide many ways to consume your content, you maximize your potential to satisfy a large majority of people, no matter what their preferred learning style is. Having a physical option for your content also helps to eliminate any technology issues caused by limited bandwidth.

What is Value?

It’s tough to figure out what exactly your members will consider valuable. Simply having regular lessons and some form of mentor contact, perhaps through email or forums or teleconferences, will be enough. Maybe you don’t need a mentoring component and your members will be happy with a series of videos, perhaps one a week, or regular audio or maybe just the opportunity to email questions to you is what people want.

Your goal is to over deliver value without drowning your members or overextending yourself. If people receive too much they may quit simply because of overwhelm. It is possible to deliver too much content, but it’s not possible to deliver too much value – the relationship is not linear. Plus you don’t want to over commit yourself, creating so much work that your quality drops or your health or lifestyle suffer.

The only way you can determine whether you are doing a good enough job is to gauge feedback from your members. Not everyone has the same opinion, but if you can satisfy and deliver value for a majority of people, you have the ingredients for a very stable membership base.

Personally I’m still trying to figure out a good balance for my members. As expected a small group of people are feeling overwhelmed, while another small group have said it’s not challenging enough. Although this can frustrate me sometimes, I realize that I can’t please all people and individual circumstances are different for each person.

The best indication of success at finding good content balance is retention rate. If most members remain members then you know you are doing a good job (this also relates to marketing – whether you are attracting the right type of customer). As long as you please the majority of people, consider your content a success. However, it’s still important to monitor everything because there may be elements that trigger an unusual number of cancellations, in which case you need to make adjustments.

Pricing

You might think it makes sense to discuss pricing at the same time as you consider what content your membership site delivers. There is definitely a relationship between what you provide and how much you charge, but in reality the perceived value of your offer is the real determinant of how much you can charge.

In almost all cases you can charge more than you think you can. There is a perfect price for a membership site, the point at which profit is maximized is it from a purely financial position, but you also need to consider the other variables I mentioned previously – how hard do you want to work and what resources do you have available? (Do you have content already produced you can provide now at no additional labor cost? Do you want an obligation to produce content every week? Are you willing to spend personal time consulting through email or phone? etc.).

In my experience I’ve noticed a broad range of pricing points. I’ve seen membership sites offering subscriptions at $3.95 a month all the way up to $50,000 a year. Strangely enough, although the price might differ dramatically, the gap between the content offered isn’t nearly as large.

I’ve written extensively about perceived value and when it comes to pricing there is no more important concept, so please read over my previous articles if this concept is confusing to you. Nearly as important as perceived value is what offer you present to your market, which is closely to related to perceived value. It’s because of these two elements – perceived value and your offer – that marketers spend so much time on the marketing of their content and not the content itself.

A good example is a series of DVD videos taken from a recorded workshop. One person might charge $97 for content of the same length as another who charges $497. Why does one cost five times as much as the other? The answer is simply what the DVD proposes to do (the benefit) and how important that outcome is perceived by potential customers. Preeminence also plays a part, since if the producer of the DVDs is considered an expert the perceived value is higher (as discussed in part one of this series).

In the case of your membership site I suggest you look at what others have done before you. The only way you can determine the right price is put something out there and charge for it. Seeing what has worked for others is the best market research you have available before launch.

Don’t make the mistake of undervaluing your content simply because of low self esteem or fear of failure. Pricing too little can end up killing your membership site because everyone perceives your offer as low quality. Sometimes in order for people to feel they are experiencing value and actually take enough action to get results, requires a hefty financial investment. An entry fee helps motivate – it’s pain money – so don’t be afraid to charge more because it might actually make your offer better.

Target Market

The type of client you are looking to attract and how painful the problem your membership site promises to solve heavily impacts how you price your offer. You might aim to attract a very small selection of highly targeted elite clients, in which case you have to work your sales funnel extensively in order to filter out your target market. If you do this successfully, charging thousands of dollars for your membership site is not unreasonable (how about 20 clients paying you $10,000 a year each?).

You may price your offer at an entry level in order to bring people into your sales funnel. Provide a valuable but basic service at an entry price and then offer your clients an upgrade option at a higher price. Or maybe you want to target very beginners and go for volume – 2,000 members all paying $9.95 a month certainly ads up!

I can’t tell you how much to charge for your membership site, ultimately only your customers can. I chose $47 a month as an initial price for people who joined Blog Mastermind during the first week. I then raised the price to $77 a month, although as the content builds up I feel that another price rise may come soon, although the current students will always pay the price that they signed up at.

My pricing decision came down to following the models of my mentors and also a desire to keep the price low enough to target an entry level blogger. I have plans for an elite program still, although I’m constantly revaluing what I want to offer to elite clients and how much I want to charge and it may be a while before this program sees the light of day. I also want to make a home-study physical version of course available one day, although that will not be a membership site.

For now I’m still tweaking many aspects of my membership site and hopefully I will eventually find a good balance between what clients find valuable long term and what they are willing to pay for it. This should be your goal as well, just don’t expect to get it right immediately and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes you need the input of outsiders to accurately assess how much to charge.

Yaro Starak
Content Deliverer

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17 Comments

  • It’s a great series, Yaro.
    I’ve not yet seen such a series on any blog.
    Keep the great work and I hope your blog mastermind program prospers.

  • Yet another really great post. I’m glad you stress the importance of content. A simple equation: under delivering on content = scam.

    “Pricing too little can end up killing your membership site because everyone perceives your offer as low quality.”

    Yaro – perhaps I missed it but could you address the role of presentation/graphic design of a site in the perceived value equation? The quality of Web design seems to be so low among many such sites. For instance, the sites for the Andrew & Daryl Grant e-books appear very amateurish, a style that – to me, at least – screams scam. (I’m not saying that it is but there is an overabundance of that same style). I’ve heard one online marketer say that such sites should look like they were designed by amateurs. Thoughts?

  • Jeff – I haven’t touched on presentation/design and I probably won’t in this series.

    While it plays a part it’s quite secondary to other marketing elements.

    As demonstrated by Daryl and Andrew, your site doesn’t have to look amazing, it’s the conversation going on in the head of the person visiting the site that matters. If someone thinks you offer value, then even the most basic design can be good enough (preeminence).

    That being said, Andrew and Daryl appeal to the regular person by presenting themselves as technophobes (regular people) and by using a simple design they help promote the image of “everyone can do it”.

    Different markets will demand different looks, but ultimately it’s the marketing that brought them to the site in the first place, and the words on the page, that matter more than the look of the design.

  • Yaro – Indeed, graphic design is exactly about “influencing the conversation going on in the head of the person visiting the site” through visual means. Thanks for the perspective.

  • Yaro,

    Thanks for putting this series together.

    Do you mind sharing how much time you’re spending on your membership site every day? It sounds like you’ve hired some help, but you’re probably pretty busy too!

  • Selecting a price also impacts who is willing to promote your product. In the Internet marketing world it seems that you need to select a very high price point to convince big names to promote your product. That makes it extra difficult to choose a price that is fair to your customers and that allows you to have a decent force of affiliates promoting your membership site.

    Another great post in this series. I look forward to the next one.

  • Lindsay – A lot! Lol, yes at the moment I’m reinvesting a lot back into Blog Mastermind, both in terms of my own labor and also hiring skilled people to help me.

    One of the big issues now is technology and the expense to get it all working how I want to, or even just close to it, is the biggest drain, but that won’t last forever once we nut out some problems.

    I’m also working pretty hard myself producing content and again that’s not something I plan to do forever.

    Right now there is not much profit left over, but it’s an investment that I’m willing to make and I know long term it will be beneficial for me. It’s business building 101.

  • Hi Yaro,

    I’ve found this whole series very absorbing and this one in particular. I am planning a Mentoring type of membership site rather than a “Download” type of Membership site, which seems to be the usual type.

    If I decide on a Weekly lesson delivery I can see how I can easily create enough content for a few months…but is there a final lesson? Should we expect members to belong for a few months and exit when they have learned what they needed?

    I used to be a college teacher and I’m wondering how far a Mentoring Membership Site can parallel a college course!

    All The Best

    Alex

  • [...] How To Launch A Membership Site – Part 4: Content and Pricing [...]

  • Alex – That’s up to you. You can plan for your program to run forever, however if that’s you writing the lessons then you have to do it forever too.

    If you make it a 12 month course, then you have to always bring new people into the program at week 1 or you lose your income stream when you finish.

    It really depends on how you source the content. If you can bring on others to write lessons and keep the content valuable then you don’t ever have to stop, but bear in mind too I don’t know any membership site that members choose to stay members of forever if it is based on education. If it’s a tool – like say an email autoresponder – that’s another story because you always need some tools.

  • I’ve not yet seen such a series on any blog.

  • Yaro, thanks for providing this great information on membership sites. I will be launching my first membership site in June, so I’m trying to learn all that I can – especially about pricing.

  • Yaro,

    Thanks for teaching on this. One question for you: what is your retention rate on a membership like that?

    Thanks!

    Sean

    • It really depends on a lot of factors. If you can keep attrition at around 10% you are doing good.

      Some people operate on a 30% attrition rate and still have very profitable membership sites.

      It really depends on how your system is set up, but my training focuses on dropping attrition to the acceptable 10% or below level if possible.

  • Hi Yaro,

    Congrats for this extensive series, I’m currently studying it to launch my own membership website. However, I have a question somehow related to pricing: how much are you paying the other mentors? Is it a fixed rate, a percentage of the membership site’s income?

  • I was wondering the same thing as Geea. And also how clients react to having a mentor of your program rather you yourself.

    Thanks for the series. It really brings home what a big undertaking something like this is.

    Gillian

  • Another good reason to offer transcription of videos is to include hearing impaired people. For them, this is the only way they can get access to your materials.

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