Read previous articles in this series:
- How To Launch A Membership Site – Part 1: Build Your Preeminence
- How To Launch A Membership Site – Part 2: Communication Channels
- How To Launch A Membership Site – Part 3: Technology
- How To Launch A Membership Site – Part 4: Content and Pricing
- How To Launch A Membership Site – Part 5: Triggers
With your basic understanding of triggers now in place from part five of this series, lets take a look at how you implement a prelaunch and then a launch for your membership site.
During prelaunch and launch you use the marketing channels and relationships you have established to build buzz about the content you are about to release (or really, the offer you are about to make), using the technology you set up to deliver the content and communicate with potential customers.
If you did your hard work leading up to this stage much of what you are about to do will be reasonably routine, it’s almost “paint by numbers” easy, but I doubt there is ever any launch that goes according to plan, mine certainly didn’t, so you must prepare for the unexpected and be ready to react to any situation that is thrown at you.
Launch Vs. Prelaunch – What is the Difference?
There is not much difference in terms of the overall strategy for your prelaunch vs. your launch, which is to build buzz and convince people to join your membership site, however what you communicate to people and what you are attempting to achieve during each phase is subtly different.
I consider the “prelaunch” everything you do leading up to the launch day and “launch” being the actual day you release your membership site (you take on paying members) and the days following it. Your prelaunch is designed to pre-sell your membership site, where your launch is designed to sell it. That may sound very similar, but the psychology is slightly different.
The prelaunch is all about building buzz, spreading the word as far as possible and demonstrating proof that what you are about to unleash on the world is truly awesome.
Two elements play a crucial part of this process – your affiliates and your free value.
Your affiliates are your partners who use their influence and preeminence to reinforce that you are about to release something valuable and help to spread the word far and wide, much further than you could ever hope to do on your own or even with a team of marketers working for you.
Your free value is the content you offer to people as samplers of what your full membership site provides. The more you overdeliver in free value, the more inclined people will be to join your membership site. As the saying goes – if your free stuff is that good, imagine how good the pay-for content must be!
I chose a comprehensive free report (or basically an ebook), as my key free value resource. The Blog Profits Blueprint was and still is a huge hit and a fantastic lead into my Blog Mastermind membership site. The Blueprint itself was of enough value that I could have decided to sell it for a fee, but I chose to release it for free as a tool to give to affiliates to help build buzz for the launch of Blog Mastermind, to establish my preeminence and to overdeliver in free value.
Video has become the tool of choice for recent online product launches. I used it in several ways during my prelaunch and I believe it is a critical element for a successful membership site launch. If you remember part three of this series covering technology, using a program like Camtasia makes video production very easy.
You can use video to show people pictures of your income, or the results of whatever it is your membership site offers, or use it to do a tour inside your membership site, or provide testimonials or how-to tutorials as examples of the training your membership site provides. The options with video are limitless but at the very least, just having you as a “talking head” explaining what your membership site is about is a huge credibility booster, don’t underestimate the power of this medium.
The prelaunch is about opening a dialog with your target market, which you continue to build upon right up to launch day and beyond. The dialog is first started when you send out your initial free value, distributed via your own internal communication channels (your email list, blog, etc) and your affiliates. You then continue the conversation over a period of weeks or a month or two at most (you don’t want to drag on a prelaunch for too long – I think 1-3 weeks is ideal).
The excitement builds as you send out each email to your interested parties to the point where just before launch they are so eager to join that they don’t even need to read your sales page. Of course you still have to have a sales page, but a good prelaunch should convince people of the value you offer before it becomes available.
The key communication mechanism for most online launches today is email, which I explained in the communication channels section of this series. Video is increasingly becoming a key ingredient as well, although the copy within the emails is the most critical component and you can still run a successful launch simply by sending out a series of value packed emails. The more you communicate with prospects and blow them away with your value and the more you make use of different media, the better your launch will be.
Once you have built buzz, released plenty of great free content and your affiliates have helped you to distribute your message far and wide, you can finally open the doors and let your first customers join.
Before we talk about the actual launch day it’s important you understand how critical affiliates are and how you can work with them. I could write an entire article – heck, an entire report on attracting and working with affiliates (there’s an idea…), but for the sake of brevity I’ll mention a few points relevant for your membership site launch.
- Reward affiliates well – in the Internet marketing world most affiliates won’t bother with anything less than 35% commissions, although 50% is standard and it’s becoming necessary to offer as much as 75% to get attention (if your product is a front end sales funnel lead generator you can even offer 150% or more commissions, see this article for an explanation of how this works: The Sales Funnel Part 2: Generating Leads At The Front End).
In non-Internet marketing niches you may not have to offer as big a commission, but obviously the better a return you offer affiliates, the more likely they will continue to promote your offer long term.
- Provide plenty of promotional tools. If possible, make it so affiliates can copy and paste the code for affiliate promotions already embedded with their affiliate ID. The easier you make it for them to promote, the more likely they will do so. Offer a range of promotional tools, like banner ads, text link ads, AdWord ads, custom articles, videos, audio, landing pages, full websites – you name it!
- Create a separate email list just to keep in contact with affiliates. You want to keep communication open with your partners, inform them when new promotional tools are released and remind them of special offers to send to their audience. Your affiliate list may become the most important email list you have – possibly even more important than your customer list!
- Approach affiliates, especially A-List partners, personally. This is a crucial tip, do not use template emails or impersonal mass broadcast methods to approach affiliates, especially premier partners. You must build relationships and treat partners as friends. I talked about this in part one of this series about preeminence. If you have built preeminence already, then chances are you already know and are friends with some of your key strategic partners, so it should just be a matter of asking for their help.
You can use a template introduction email if you have hundreds of people to contact or for people with smaller lists/audiences (the B-List partners), but make sure you focus on helping them (or their clients/readers) and don’t just talk about how much money you can make them. Let me tell you from the perspective of someone who receives affiliate invitations regularly – I delete emails sent to me that just talk about how much money I could make if I promote their product – a soft sell works a lot better.
The Sales Page
You would think that your final sales page – the page you use to invite people to join your membership site – is the most critical element, but I don’t think so. I consider everything you do up to the point where you release the sales letter as more important. Sales copy is powerful, I won’t deny that, but I think a launch “process” is *a lot* more powerful.
That being said, you must have a sales page.
I’m not a copywriter and I’m not about to start training you what goes into good copy because it’s a huge topic and there are many qualified experts you could study under. You already have the triggers I gave you in part five of this series and if you simply must write the copy yourself, use the triggers and other people’s sales pages as inspiration to create your own. Just remember there is a huge difference between an amateur sales page and a professionally written one – this is not an area you want to cut corners.
My advice is you hire someone to handle your copy for you, even several people to review your copy if you have the resources, rather than attempt to produce the final product yourself. I created the basic framework for my copy since I knew my customer well, but there is no way I would trust my own skills alone for the final version.
I wrote the sales page for Blog Mastermind by brain dumping everything I knew about my program and more importantly, everything I knew about my target customer. I modeled what I wrote based on what I knew about triggers and other sales pages I had seen over the previous years. The end result was a very long winded mess of sales page, but it was full of great content.
Since it was clear I personally wasn’t able to produce a final sales page by the launch date I brought in the big guns last minute and hired a copywriter, who happened to be in the right place at the right time, since I had met him at a conference a couple of weeks prior and was available for some rush work right when I needed him.
In the last 48 hours before Blog Mastermind went live, Chris Bloor reviewed and rewrote my copy to what you currently see at BlogMastermind.com. He did a great job and turned my good ideas into great copy, adding ideas of his own as well. It cost me four figures to get it done, but it was worth it, I felt confident releasing my program once a professional had reviewed my copy.
My good friend Will Swayne from Marketing-Results.com.au also knows a thing or two about copy and helped out with a final brush and polish and a few modifications to my copy as required.
Using great copy in all aspects of your launch is a smart thing to do and as I demonstrated, you should be prepared to spend thousands if necessary to hire a pro to do it for you. If a good copywriter can help you make an extra $10,000 in sales, would you spend $4,000 to hire them? I think so…
There is nothing worse than spending all your time and effort to do a great launch and then have your final sales page let you down. Good sales copy is part of a successful launch process and should not be neglected – every piece of the puzzle augments the other – so don’t neglect your copy. Good copy will increase conversion, it’s as simple as that, so spend some time getting this part right.
You can find his contact details at ChrisBloor.com and you can get a $500 discount if you mention “Yaro” sent you.
Finally we hit the big day. With your prelaunch over and your sales page in place, it’s time to open the floodgates and let people join your membership site.
Unfortunately I was too disorganized to do any real copy testing prior to launch, but it’s a good idea just before launch to test your sales page conversion by sending Google AdWords traffic to it or by broadcasting to a small list or a segment of your list. Just split-testing three different headlines can make a huge difference to conversion, plus you can also test different pricing points and other copy elements. I simply didn’t have the resources, the time or the mental bandwidth to get it done.
Not testing my sales page is the one major regret I have about my launch, and it’s something if I could have over again I would definitely get right. You only get one launch day and it’s during the first day (and week) that the majority of traffic will hit your site, so you don’t want to waste this opportunity.
Once you are happy with your sales page conversion rate it’s time to let people join. During your prelaunch you should have created anticipation by telling people in advance the date and time of your official release (complete with countdown timer on your sales page) and reminded your affiliates when the best time to promote is.
As part of your prelaunch you may have created an “early notification” email list, which is something I did. If you promised your email subscribers or your affiliates that they will get first notice about the release of your program or the chance to join or promote before everyone else, make sure you deliver on that promise.
Rock and Roll
Once all the emails have been sent, the sales page is ready to go, the payment systems and other technological elements have been tested and you have back-ups in place, your customer support is ready and your product order process has been tested, it’s time to open the doors.
Your sales page goes live, your email broadcasts go out and then, finally, your first sale comes through and you can breath a sigh of relief, at least someone wants what you offer :).
Hopefully the first sale is the start of a long line of sale emails you will receive over the next 24 hours and then the coming week. As Jeff Walker notes and I also experienced with my launch, in the first 24 hours of a week long launch you should receive about one third of the total sales, with two more thirds coming over the next six days, and there is a big burst at the end of the week, assuming you set in place some form of limited offer to expire after the launch week.
In my case I offered a discount period for one week, and exactly 100 members signed up in the first 24 hours with a little over 200 more coming by the end of the week (about 70 signed up in the last 24 hours).
Keep The Buzz Going
On launch day, if you haven’t already sent out enough emails to your partners, make sure you remind them that the best time to promote is now. Provide new promotional tools if possible.
After the first 24 hours of my launch, once the first 100 students were in the program, using the materials and interacting in the forums, I produced a special behind-the-scenes sneak peek video, taking people inside Blog Mastermind so they could see what goes on once you join. I took people through my sales page, showed them the member resources, went into the forums so they could see people had joined and were active and ended with a shot of my email inbox, showing the first 100 emails telling me of the new member sign-up sales.
This video was a powerful social proof tool and was also a great promo resource I provided for affiliates to use to give to their readers. The only mistake I made (it’s arguable) with the video was making it too long, but it was a great tool and released at a very timely part of the launch process.
During the launch week I continued to send out emails to my email lists, further explaining the benefits and features of my membership site, offering more free value and and using more triggers. After each email was sent out there was another small burst of new sign-ups, so it shows that you really need to keep communication going, preferably an email each day to both your prospect lists and your partners list during the launch week.
Again this is a time where video is a powerful medium to use to help keep communication flowing. Use it whenever it makes sense to do so, show people inside your membership site and/or send out more testimonials (you could get some of the first people who joined the program to give you a fresh testimonial to demonstrate the currency of your offer).
As your launch period starts to wind up, it’s critical that you remind people that your limited time offer is about to expire. A large chunk of your sales will come through as the urgency builds up. If you only have 20 products left, then tell people that. If the deadline for a special bonus or a price rise is about to hit, tell people. It will feel almost like you are printing money as you see how people react to your emails, with each new broadcast creating a boost of sales.
Don’t Forget Your Customers
While all the crazy launch stuff is going on, don’t forget that you have to deliver what you promised to all the people who joined. It’s at this point that any leaks in your system will start to show and if anything is confusing about your sign-up process, your new customers will certainly let you know about it. Be prepared for many helpdesk tickets coming in at the worst time, just when you are trying to keep the pressure on during your launch.
I recommend you have helpdesk staff ready to go if you can afford it, because you don’t want to be doing support when you should be finishing off your launch process. You also don’t want to make a bad first impression to all your new customers, so keep communication fluid, regular and open at all times with your new customers.
Its absolutely critical that immediately after handing over their membership fee that you return to customers what you promised in your sales page. It’s at this point that your new members want to indulge and enjoy what they have paid for and there is nothing more frustrating than having something not work and then having to wait for it to be fixed.
Unfortunately during my launch certain technical hiccups caused a small percentage of people to stall in the middle of the ordering process, just after they paid their fee, but before they could register an account. Thankfully this only happened to a small group and it was largely because of internet connection issues, so there wasn’t much I could do about it besides respond to helpdesk queries as quickly as possible to sort them out. This did create an extra layer of stress during an already stressful period, so a big lesson for me was to have trained support staff ready to go before launch, which is something I recommend you have in place too.
Done and Dusted
Once the craziness of the prelaunch and launch is over you can settle down to a more normal pace of life again and go to work over-delivering great value to your members. Unless you do another launch or a relaunch, you will not likely experience growth at the pace you just went through during your launch and prelaunch, but there is still a lot of work to do. You have to be careful not to get too carried away with the success you have just enjoyed.
In the next segment of this series we will look at ongoing maintenance and the growth of your membership site beyond the initial launch.