10 Ways to Test Your Idea Before Starting a Membership Site
Starting a membership site from scratch is a big commitment and takes a lot of work. We’d be lying if we said it was easy. The truth of the matter is that there are a lot of factors to consider when building a membership site. Things like website design, content creation, marketing strategies, and more.
While it may not be easy to build a successful membership site in 2022, the rewards are certainly worth it: the ability to grow and impact an engaged community, the stability of recurring revenue, business automation and scalability, to name a few. Plus, you get to share your knowledge and expertise with your community, help them in a meaningful way and get paid to do it!
To help you be successful, we’d like to share something we’ve noticed over the past 12+ years here at MemberMouse. There seems to be a pattern that exists in the stories of many of our most successful customers. When they are just starting out, they come up with a way to build an audience and test their idea.
If you are thinking of starting a membership site, validating your idea with real people is a critical part of the process. We’ve also found that entrepreneurs who are already serving an engaged community find a deeper level of motivation to overcome the challenges and obstacles they might encounter in the journey to build something great. In other words, your community will drive you forward. Fortunately, there are more ways to easily validate your idea for a course or membership than ever before.
So, if you're not quite ready to go all in on building a full-scale WordPress membership site, here are 10 ways you can test your idea for a membership site and build an engaged audience in the meantime.
1. Start a Blog
Starting a blog is an easy way for you to get your ideas out there and test your content online. One of the primary advantages of starting a blog is that it can help you build an audience of readers who may be interested in paying for access to your membership site in the future. Plus, it can help you discover what people in your niche or area of expertise are most interested in.
This is what Jacob McMillen did when he first started out online. After years of blogging and working with clients, he was able to create both online courses and a paid membership community. Blogs may seem “old hat” – but they are still one of the best ways to get your ideas out there and build an audience.
If you don’t already have a lot of experience creating content, starting a blog will help you formulate a realistic content plan & calendar for your paid membership site. Many people who start membership sites are surprised with just how much work is involved in creating new content for paying members.
Also, if you're just getting started online, creating a blog will help you dip your toes into the world of web design and development. If you are thinking about building your membership site using WordPress, we’d highly recommend setting up a blog with WordPress first. Familiarize yourself with the backend, find a theme or page builder that you like and get comfortable navigating the ins and outs of WordPress. This foundational work will really come in handy if and when you decide to build a membership site.
2. Start a Facebook Group
If your idea for a membership site revolves more around access to a private or exclusive community than content, starting a Facebook group is a proven way to test your idea.
Facebook makes it incredibly easy for anyone to start a group. You can choose whether the group will be an open, public group or a private, closed community. This article from Hootsuite gives a great intro to Facebook Groups and tells you everything you need to know to get one set up.
A major benefit of starting a Facebook group is that you will be able to interact with prospective members and customers in real time. This will help you identify what they need, what they are most interested in and what they might be willing to pay for. Plus, you’ll gain invaluable experience managing a community. Better to learn how to deal with difficult or toxic community members in a lower-stakes environment like Facebook than on the property of your own membership site.
Hate the idea of building your community on the “rented land” of Facebook?
We’ve got you covered with this next idea…
3. Create a Slack, Voxer, or Volley Channel
Even though Facebook is still the biggest social media platform, we’ve heard from more and more people that they’re moving away from it. Especially when it comes to building private communities or important business assets. This is smart for a few different reasons.
The first is because when you create your community on Facebook, you’re essentially asking your members to prioritize your group over any of the bazillion other distractions on the platform. If you create a private community off Facebook, you won't have to worry about competing with cat memes for the attention of your members.
The second reason is because when you build on Facebook, you never truly own your community. They can delete your group whenever they choose to. Communities can be such amazing assets for your business. It’d be a shame to have that all disappear overnight as you plead with the Facebook support team to reactivate your group.
So what’s your alternative?
What we’ve seen a number of successful entrepreneurs do is create a private Slack, Voxer, or Volley groups. What’s great about these groups is that you can keep them private, invite in a select group of people, and create a really tight-knit community. These options are perfect for coaches and service providers who want to offer more personal access to their communities.
The tool you choose really depends on the wants and needs of the people you serve. Slack is great for text exchanges, group chat areas, and quick calls. Voxer is perfect for people who prefer audio communication. It’s kind of like “voice texting.” If you’d rather speak your thoughts out loud, chances are Voxer will be a match made in heaven.
And finally, Volley is a cool new tool that makes it easy to send video and screen share messages back and forth. It’s similar to Slack and Voxer in some ways. But it has a lot of unique features as well. If you have a tech savvy audience — and want the ability to communicate with video and screen share — definitely check out Volley.
The one potential downside of using one of these tools to test out your idea for a membership is that you’ll have to promote the group all on your own. That’s one nice thing about Facebook groups. Once you surpass a certain number of members, Facebook will promote the group for you. Plus, you’ll show up in the search results for anyone who’s looking for a group about your topic.
4. Create an eBook, Masterclass, or Workshop
Creating an eBook, masterclass, or workshop is another great way for you to test your idea for a membership before building it. The process of organizing your ideas, knowledge and experience and compiling them into one core asset will be an invaluable educational experience for you.
Plus, it can give you an idea of the different topics and issues you might cover in your membership site. Each chapter or section you create could one day become an in-depth training module in your membership site. By doing this, you can gauge interest and discover if there are any gaps or redundancies in your content.
In terms of distribution, you can either give it away for free in exchange for feedback or use the opportunity to test prices in your market. Like Jerry Robinson talked about in this blog post, it’s OK to start with a low cost product. Consider the low cost of your e-book or masterclass as an educational expense. If someone is willing to pay $7 for your knowledge PDF form, chances are you could sell a video course or more in-depth text training for a higher price.
However, if you do decide to give the book away for free, consider using it as a lead magnet to grow your email list. Which leads us to our next item…
5. Start Your Email List
If and when you do decide to launch your membership site, you’ll need a group of people to launch it to! Having an email list is perhaps the cornerstone of this process. If you don’t already have an email service provider, tools like ConvertKit or MailChimp are free to use — up to ~1,000 subscribers.
The crucial point to keep in mind about an email list is that it is an asset that you actually own. If you are creating a Facebook group or YouTube channel, your members and subscribers technically belong to those platforms. If all of a sudden Facebook or YouTube decides to delete your group or channel, all of your hard work creating content and building an audience can disappear overnight (yes, this does actually happen… but, we’ll save the horror stories for another time).
There are many different strategies for building an email list. For instance, if you are starting a blog, consider asking your readers to sign up for your mailing list so you can notify them when you publish new content. If you are just getting started building an email list, we’d recommend checking out this helpful article from Pat Flynn.
At the beginning, don’t worry so much about the size of your mailing list. Remember, a handful of highly engaged subscribers who are interested and invested in what you are doing is much better than a big list of people who never even open your emails. The key is to build a relationship with the people on your list. That way, when you do decide to start your membership site, you’ll have an engaged group of people who are ready to sign up.
6. Build A Twitter Audience
Another fantastic way to test out your idea for a membership site is to build an audience on twitter. Twitter is full of niche communities that interact with authors, experts, and leaders on a daily basis. You’d be surprised just how many niches are well represented on Twitter. For example, one of our customers – Digits & Threads – is an active member of “Knitting Twitter” – a community that’s entirely focused on all things knitting.
The reason Twitter is such a great way to test out your idea for a membership is that you can test new content ideas very quickly and easily. Plus, once you have attracted an audience there, it can become a great channel for content promotion and lead generation.
Nova Scotia’s @TaprootFarms was already one of the largest organic farms in Atlantic Canada when they decided to begin growing and milling flax. Learn about their operation, including how flax is processed into yarn: https://t.co/zX5b2Nqlrg pic.twitter.com/Y8fAZR485J
— Digits & Threads (@DigitsThreadsCA) April 8, 2022
Here’s the basics of a Twitter strategy we’ve seen many smart entrepreneurs use over the past few years to establish their presence on the platform:
1. Consistently post valuable content that’s relevant to the niche you want to be a part of. Mix it up with bite sized advice and in-depth threads.
2. Follow, comment, and interact with the people in your niche that you want to build relationships with.
3. Make sure your bio is optimized so that you give people a reason to follow you. Bonus points if you have a call-to-action for people to get on your email list.
Here’s a great example of what an optimized Twitter bio looks like from the one and only Jason Resnick. Notice the newsletter signup call to action 👇
But what if Twitter isn't your thing? Does the 280 character limit feel a bit too constricting? Have no fear! We've got another idea for you.
7. Start a YouTube Channel
If you’re planning on offering video content as part of your digital product or membership site, starting a YouTube channel is a fantastic way to show your content to the world. Publishing your videos on YouTube will also help you familiarize yourself with the processes involved in creating video courses. There are a lot of moving pieces in terms of video recording, editing, uploading, etc. Not to mention the very act of showing up on camera!
When you build and own your own membership site, you want to deliver content of the highest possible quality to your members. Getting some practice on camera and working out any technical kinks beforehand will go a long way in helping you deliver great content to your members.
Publishing videos on YouTube and building an engaged audience also gives you the opportunity to drive traffic to your blog, social media pages, and build your email list. If you are interested in learning how to build an audience using YouTube and use it as a tool to grow your business, be sure to check out our podcast episode with Clayton Olson.
8. Start a Podcast
If your idea for a membership site includes audio content like access to exclusive interviews or training, starting a podcast could be an effective, low-barrier way for you to test your idea. With free resources like iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher, it's now easier than ever to publish your audio content online. If you have a laptop with a microphone, you have enough to start building an audience with a podcast.
Creating a podcast can also help you demonstrate and establish your authority in your market, connect with other experts and influencers, and discover the content that really performs well in your space. Also, if you’re not exactly sure what format your content should take, or how you should structure and organize it, a podcast gives you the opportunity to try out different content topics and numerous approaches to your subject.
If you are successful in starting a podcast and growing an audience, your podcast can ultimately serve as a tool to drive traffic to your website and generate leads for your membership site. If people like the free interviews and content you provide on your podcast, chances are they will be interested in your exclusive, members’ only content as well.
9. Start a MeetUp Group or Mastermind
What?! Did you hear us right? Are we crazy? Yes! You can test your idea for an online membership site offline. Consider starting a MeetUp group in your town or city centered around your area of interest or expertise. After the past few years of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems more and more people are craving in-person events and interactions. Just be sure to follow the health and safety guidelines of your state or city.
A MeetUp group or mastermind can give you invaluable, in-person insight into the different people and groups in your market. An in-person group can be a great way to discover the different wants, needs, fears and desires people in your world have.
You can interact with them in real-time and get feedback on your ideas. The sort of personal understanding that comes through real-life customer interactions far outweighs what you can learn from your analytics. In fact, getting on the ground floor and talking with actual members & subscribers is what helped Clair Whitmer dial in the marketing and messaging for her membership site.
If and when you do decide to create an online membership site, your offline MeetUp group can actually work as a lead generator for your online membership. If you are delivering content at your MeetUp group, you may even be able to film or record it live at the MeetUp group and publish it on your membership site.
10. Host an In-Person Demo, Class, or Focus Group
This can be an ideal way to test your idea for a membership site if you specialize in highly technical, detailed training. For example, if you are a real-estate trainer or stock market expert, you can do an in-person demo or class on your area of expertise to a small group of your peers before you attempt to roll your training out online.
This is precisely what one of our customers named George Papazov did. You can hear all about how he tested a new idea for his membership site with an in-person class in this conversation. Spoiler alert: he nearly tripled his membership revenue after doing this one thing.
An in-person demo or focus group is a great way to get direct feedback from potential customers about what is valuable for them. If your demo class goes well enough, you could potentially record it and use that as the content for your membership site. The thing to keep in mind here is to learn how to effectively communicate and teach a complex topic. Even though you’re an expert in your field, you may not be an expert in teaching others. Get some experience and feedback first, then build a membership site to share with the world.
If you're toying around with the idea of starting a membership site, we hope at least one of these ten ways to test your idea inspired you. We love membership and subscription sites, but realize they aren't for everyone.
Before going all-in and building a membership site, it would be wise to test your idea with an engaged audience. Your audience doesn't have to be huge. In fact, 10 highly-engaged, committed people would be far more valuable than 100 people with lukewarm interest.
If you are interested in more posts with valuable information from our community, be sure to check out this post with 10 unique examples of membership sites. If you've found success with any one of these methods or know of one we left off the list, be sure to let us know in the comments below. We'd love to hear from you!
Matt is our enthusiastic Content Manager here at MemberMouse. Originally from Chicago, Matt now resides in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and cat. He loves reading, writing and getting outdoors.