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, 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 10 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.
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.
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 an excellent 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 post 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.
A word of warning: It can be challenging to convert free members from a Facebook group into paid members on your membership site. If you do plan on building your own membership site, make sure you have an idea for an exit strategy from the very beginning. And always remember, a group that exists on Facebook technically doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to Facebook. From the start, do whatever you can to build assets you own such as an email list (we’ll cover this more later in the post).
3. Write an E-Book
Writing an e-book is an exceptional way for you to perform an in-depth test of your idea for a membership site with your market before building one. The process of organizing your ideas, knowledge and experience and compiling them into a book 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 that you write could one day become an in-depth training module in your membership site. By writing an e-book, you can gauge interest and discover if there are any gaps or redundancies in your content.
In terms of distributing your e-book, 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 our recent blog post, it’s OK to start with a low cost product. Consider the low cost of your e-book an educational expense. If someone is willing to pay $7 for your e-book in 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…
4. Build 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 MailChimp are free to use (up to a certain number of subscribers).
The critical 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.
5. Release a Video Training on YouTube
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 appearing 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.
6. Start a MeetUp Group
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.
A MeetUp group can give you invaluable, in-person insight into the different people and groups in your market. A MeetUp group can be a great way to discover the different wants, needs, fears and desires. You can interact with them in real-time and get feedback on your idea. The sort of personal understanding that comes through real-life customer interactions far outweigh 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.
7. Start a Podcast
If your idea for a membership site includes audio content like access to exclusive interviews or trainings, 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.
8. Create a Slack Channel
This is a newer strategy we’re seeing implemented in different markets. For example, if you offer 1-on-1 business coaching for artists trying to advance in their career, you could create a private community Slack channel for your individual coaching clients to interact with each other.
Starting a private Slack channel is similar to a Facebook group, but is better suited for small, intimate communities. There is also a greater sense of privacy associated with a private Slack channel, so it may be a better fit for professional situations. If your idea for a membership site involves real-time access to you, consider starting a Slack channel over a Facebook group.
9. Do 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.
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 you’re 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.
10. Attend Speaking Engagements & Conferences
If you are an expert in your industry with highly sought-after knowledge, this method can be a great way to test your idea before building a membership site online. You could use the networking opportunities available at conferences to get feedback from people in your market and learn what people would pay for on a recurring basis. Speaking engagements and conferences also allows you to research what others in your sphere are doing and gain from their experience as well.
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 an enthusiastic Marketing Associate at MemberMouse. Originally from Chicago, Matt now resides in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and cat. He loves reading, writing and getting outdoors.